U.S. Parents Seek Career-Oriented and Affordable Higher Education for Themselves and Their Children, College Savings Foundation Survey Finds

October 5, 2022

Annual survey reveals intergenerational similarities in their needs and expectations for higher education 

Washington, DC, October 6 – U.S. parents across the country have a new vision of higher education for both their children and themselves – more career-oriented, affordable and targeted to their evolving employment needs. In the 16th annual State of Higher Ed Savings survey, the College Savings Foundation (CSF) took an intergenerational approach, asking 1,000 parents across the country about their children’s and their own plans for higher education, what higher education looks like for them today, and how they expect to pay for it.

In addition to gleaning the perspectives of parents on these topics overall, the survey also honed in on three age groups. It asked parents about the upcoming plans of their children in high school, the higher education experiences of their 18-25-year-olds, and their own needs for their current and prospective careers. Key themes that emerged were that higher education is an ongoing need that also encompasses career preparedness and training throughout a person’s life.

“We are starting to see people seek education at all different ages and levels; and what we found among parents is that they are focused on career choices driving their education decisions for their children and themselves,” said CSF Chair Vivian Tsai. 

Key findings on how parents view higher education:

Higher Ed is a lifelong experience:

  • 86% said their children will need to continue their education or gain additional skills throughout their lives. 
  • For themselves, 41% of parents said they are interested in changing careers and will need additional education or certifications to do so.

Career and vocational schools are as important as traditional 4-year college:  

  • 68% of parents said they think of vocational and career/technical schools in the same way as they do public and private college – the highest in the survey’s history of asking that question.  
  • When asked what kind of career/vocational credential or traditional college diploma was important today, the majority, 51%, said they are of equal importance.  

Saving, including in 529 plans, is still a foundational way to fund Higher Ed:

  • 83% of all parents are willing to help fund their children’s higher education costs, with one-third of them saying that savings is the primary way to do so. 37% stated they are relying on grants, scholarships and direct aid.  
  • 65% of all parents were saving for their child’s higher education; and 46% of all parents had saved at least $5,000 per child. 
  • 29% of all parents are saving in a 529 higher education plan; and three-quarters of those parents are saving through recurring – annual, quarterly or monthly – contributions.  One-in-five parents prioritize 529s as their primary savings vehicle.
  • Nearly half of all parents (49%) are aware that they can use 529 plans for more than traditional college, to include career and technical/vocational schools, community college, graduate school and certified apprenticeships, are using them or planning to use them in that way. 
    • Additionally, 45% of parents are aware that 529s can be used for computers, books and technology software, are using them or planning to do so; and 
    • 35% are aware they can use them to pay off student loans with a lifetime limit of $10,000 per beneficiary, are doing so or are planning to do so.
  • One-third of all parents know they can use 529s for their own education, and 21% of all parents are using them for this reason or plan to do so.

“As the higher education landscape changes, 529s can be used by all American families to pay for whatever path they choose,” Tsai added. 

Paying and borrowing for higher education

Beyond savings, most parents (70%) are looking to their children to help, with those funds coming from the child’s job (43%), scholarships/grants/fellowships (33%), loans (12%), and savings (10%).  Parents also expect children to contribute significantly: 51% say their children should contribute up to one-third of all costs, 34% up to two-thirds, and 15% more than two thirds.

When it comes to loans, parents showed hesitancy. One third (34%) said they would not take out loans for their children’s higher ed. When asked why not, 57% of those said they do not want the debt; 20% said they would fund it in other ways such as savings, aid, or income; and 15% said they did not think higher ed should be financed through debt. 

How parents think higher ed should address workforce preparedness 

In terms of their child’s future career path, 71% of parents think the college experience should change. Of those, 37% said classes should be focused on career needs and training; 27% said schools should offer credentials along with degrees; and 22% said schools should test for skills/knowledge attained through comprehension, rather than hours in class. 

These answers compare with what 1,000 high school students in CSF’s Youth Survey (May 2022) said when asked what they would prefer if they could design their perfect higher education experience. Their top-ranked choices were: classes based on practical work experience; classes allowing them to take a test once they mastered the material for comprehension; and those giving credit for work experience done in conjunction with school. 

“Both parents and students are looking for more than an academic experience. They are also seeking to gain practical skills and credentials that they can use in their work lives,” Tsai commented.

The following breaks out parents’ higher ed plans and expectations by age groups:  

Parents of Children in High School:

Offering a window into the next group of higher ed consumers, parents of 15-17-year-olds said their children plan to go to a traditional 4-year public college (34%); vocational/technical, community college or an apprenticeship program (20%); and private college (14%). 31% don’t yet know.

Parents of 18-25-year-olds: 

Only 44% of parents said their 18-to-25-year-old children had gone to college and stayed there, with the remaining 56% having gone to college and switched to online courses (12%), taken a leave of absence (10%), or dropped out (7%). More than one quarter checked “Other” (27%), whose children predominantly did not go to college at all.

In terms of value, 61% of parents of this age group do not think that tuition and fees incurred by today’s higher education represent a good value for what their child was receiving. 

Of the 56% of parents whose students took remote classes due to COVID, more than half – 52%  – said they did not think the fees for these classes were appropriately priced. 

Parents’ own plans for Higher Ed: 

Not only do parents anticipate additional education to support their careers, some have already begun:

  • Nearly one-in-four (24%) say they will need further education for their current career. 
  • In addition to 41% saying they need additional education and certifications for a new career, 15% of all parents have already started those credentialing requirements.
  • One in five (18%) parents said they are changing their career. Asked why, 54% are interested in an entirely different one; 31% want one that will allow them to spend more time with their families, and 7% said their former job required mandates they did not want to meet (i.e. going back to office). 

The CSF 2022 State of College Savings survey of parents was conducted with 1,000 parents across the country via Survey Monkey.  The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals.