Financial Planning and College Costs

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1 SUMMER 2013 Financial Planning and College Costs The Parent Perspective University Research Partners is the research division of Royall & Company. URP designs, deploys, and analyzes issue-oriented research that explores topics of interest to higher education leaders and policy makers East Parham Road Richmond, Virginia royall.com Since 2000, URP has surveyed more than 750,000 students on their beliefs and concerns about higher education and conducted institution-specific research for its 200+ nonprofit higher education clients Royall & Company

2 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY In the recent past, the cost of getting a college education has been a common topic in American news. Estimates suggest that the average tuition at public institutions increased 8.3% in the past year, due in part to both true increases in costs and declines in state appropriations to public institutions (Hicken, 2013). In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a moderate student budget for an in-state public college for the academic year averaged $22,261; a moderate budget at a private college averaged $43,289. It is not uncommon to see news stories that emphasize seemingly incomprehensible costs of college in 10+ years. For instance, a report from Sallie Mae, How America Saves for College 2013, suggests that in 10 years one year of education will cost $139,028 at a public institution and $248,878 at a private institution. To explore perceptions of college costs, University Research Partners surveyed a national sample of 2,000+ parents of college-bound high school students. Parents shared their concerns as well as their plans for paying the costs of higher education for their children. This report summarizes the findings. On the following pages, you ll discover: What parents are most concerned about when it comes to their children s college decision How parents plan to fund their children s college education How much parents are willing to spend for their children s college experience What parents think the role of loans should be in funding higher education How parents balance costs and perceptions of quality in the college search process Here s a brief summary of our key findings: Almost three out of four parents (72.4%) reported that the cost of attendance has spurred their interest in public/state institutions for their children. It is the cost for their child to attend his or her first-choice school that is making parents most anxious. Parents who did not complete college are more likely to be planning on grants and scholarships for funding their children s education than are parents who completed college. Parents who completed college are significantly more likely to rely on funds from their own income and savings and/or funds invested in a college savings plan than are parents who did not complete college. A significant percentage of all parents are unsure about the total amount they would be willing to spend for their children s education per year (28.0%). Overall, parents appear to be making decisions relatively late in the college choice process when considering the size of the financial investment that is required of most families.

3 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS Current and future costs of getting a college education have garnered much attention recently, with many parties interested in what may be at stake. As tuitions increase, there is a growing concern regarding families preparation for managing the costs of a college education for their children. Data published in Sallie Mae s How America Saves for College 2013 report and the StudentPoll (2012) report suggest that: Most families have not saved enough for their child s postsecondary education; even those who have saved are doing so based on what they can afford to set aside rather than any specific amount they will need to cover college costs. Most parents report their teenage children do not save for their own college education. Parents report a higher percentage of their child s educational costs will be paid by grants and scholarships than by their own income or savings. Students may have unrealistic expectations when it comes to applications for merit aid, with three out of four reporting they expect to receive merit aid for academic achievement. Most parents report they anticipate that at least one-quarter of their child s educational costs will be funded through loans (parent and/or student loans), but they remain unsure as to the actual amount to be borrowed. In a study conducted in early 2012 by University Research Partners, both students and parents agreed that parents have a high level of influence over the amount of money that will be spent on the child s education and the amount of debt the family will incur. More than three out of four parents surveyed (77.6%) indicated they had spoken with their child about financing college, and more than half (55.0%) had helped their child complete scholarship/financial aid applications. The goal of the research reported here was to learn more from parents about their perceptions of college costs and how they are preparing and planning for their child s educational future. The study involved a national survey of parents of college-bound high school students, which concluded in the spring of

4 THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2013 KEY FINDING 1. COLLEGE COST IS A CONCERN, BUT IT IS NOT THE ONLY THING PARENTS ARE WORRIED ABOUT WHEN CONSIDERING THEIR CHILD S COLLEGE CHOICE. On average, parents rated the cost for their child to attend his or her first-choice school and whether their child will be admitted to his or her first-choice school of greater concern than overall costs. All parents those with a four-year college degree or more and those without a college degree are most concerned about the cost of attendance at their child s first-choice school. Considering the other factors displayed below, parents with and without college degrees expressed similar concerns. Q. As you consider your child s future, what makes you most concerned or anxious? Cost Factors Full Sample Without 4-Year With 4-Year Mean Mean Mean The cost of attending first-choice school The cost of attending any college How much financial support will be provided Whether the cost of attendance will increase after enrollment Other Factors Full Sample Without 4-Year With 4-Year Means are based on the ranking of the concern from 1 to 3, where 1 indicates greatest concern. Highlights denote significant differences by parent s level of academic attainment. Mean Mean Mean Whether he/she will be admitted to first-choice school If the college where he/she enrolls will be a good fit Whether he/she will be successful in college His/her personal safety on campus His/her exposure to drugs and alcohol on campus Whether he/she will be able to get a job after graduation NOTE: In addition to the factors provided in the tables above, parents expressed concern about the debt their child would have upon graduation, their child s ability to complete college in four years, and whether their child would be admitted to graduate school after college. 3

5 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS In terms of differences revealed in parental concerns, the following table reveals an interesting, but predictable, pattern regarding household income and cost concerns. Parents with household incomes in the middle ranges ($30,001-$90,000) report the greatest levels of concern regarding cost and financial support. This may be due to the perception among higher-income families that they can draw upon income and savings and the perception among lower-income families that they may qualify for need-based awards, while middle-income families may believe they don t have either resource available to them. Cost Factors $30,000 or Less $30,001- $60,000 $60,001- $90,000 $90,001- $120,000 $120,001 or Greater Mean Mean Mean Mean Mean The cost of attending any college How much financial support will be provided When asked to consider the relative importance of certain criteria used in college choice, parents identified academic programs as more important than financial considerations. Consequently, while parents clearly indicate concerns over paying for college, they also feel a strong need to ensure that their child can study his or her program of choice in a school of his or her choice. One might surmise that whatever the financial implications, parents have a strong emotional drive to help their children see their college dreams come true or at least a need to minimize any sense of guilt over preventing some future success their child might achieve. Drawing upon their perceptions of price and value, parents ranked a set of characteristics and outcomes viewed as worth the price of higher education. For most parents, excellence in teaching is perceived as most valuable, followed by successful job placement after college and strong support services while in school. Q. When you think about college costs and what your child gets for the price you pay, what would you say is most valuable to you? What characteristics and outcomes are worth the price you would pay for your child to attend college? Top-Ranked Characteristics and Outcomes Mean Excellence in teaching 1.66 Successful job placement after college 1.90 Strong support services for students academic success 1.95 Means are based on the ranking of value from 1 to 3, where 1 is most valuable. 4

6 THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2013 Other Ranked Characteristics and Outcomes Mean Successful graduate school placement after college 2.00 National/international reputation 2.01 Strong institutional traditions 2.02 Small class sizes 2.12 Safe and secure campus environment 2.19 Modern, state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, and other academic resources 2.19 Faculty mentors 2.29 Opportunity to play competitive sports 2.37 Modern, state-of-the-art residential, dining, and/or recreational facilities 2.44 Strong service culture 2.52 Supportive alumni network 2.59 Abundance of extracurricular activities 2.67 Means are based on the ranking of value from 1 to 3, where 1 is most valuable. KEY FINDING 2. MANY PARENTS ARE UNSURE ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY WILL SPEND ANNUALLY FOR THEIR CHILD S EDUCATION, AND MOST PLAN TO RELY ON A VARIETY OF POTENTIAL RESOURCES TO COVER COLLEGE COSTS. Parents indicated the maximum amount they would pay for their child s college attendance. In addition, they indicated what resources they would draw upon to meet college costs, including (1) income and savings and (2) borrowed funds (student and parent loans). The chart below reveals the high percentage of parents indicating they are unsure about how much they are prepared to spend each year for their child s education. Unsure $15,000 or less $15,001-$30,000 $30,001 or more 25% 27% 20% 28% Results for parents who were able to identify a specific amount they are willing to pay per year for their child s college attendance are displayed in the following table. Cumulative $5,000 or less $5,001-$10, $10,001-$15, $15,001-$20, $20,001-$25, $25,001-$30, $30,001-$35, $35,001-$40, $40,001-$45, $45,001-$50, $50,001 or more

7 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS 6 Parents anticipate using funds from multiple sources to cover their child s college education, including funds directly from income, college savings, regular savings, loans, grants, and scholarships. A significantly higher percentage of parents with college degrees than those without are prepared to cover a portion of college costs using savings of some kind and/or their own income; a significantly higher percentage of parents without college degrees indicate a reliance on student loans. While this question did not directly address parental attitudes toward borrowing, the results suggest a disadvantage for parents who did not complete college. Their children are more likely to graduate from college with greater loan debt to manage. Q. In terms of the comprehensive costs for your child to attend college (tuition, fees, housing, and meals), what is the maximum amount you would pay from income and savings and/or with borrowed funds per year? Income and Savings Amount Borrowed/Loan Amount Unsure/don t know $5,000 or less $5,001-$10, $10,001-$15, $15,001-$20, $20,001-$25, $25,001-$30, $30,001-$35, $35,001-$40, $40,001-$45, $45,001-$50, ,001 or more Income and Savings Amount Without 4-Year With 4-Year Borrowed/Loan Amount Without 4-Year With 4-Year Unsure/don t know $5,000 or less $5,001-$10, $10,001-$15, $15,001-$20, $20,001-$25, $25,001-$30, $30,001-$35, $35,001-$40, $40,001-$45, $45,001-$50, $50,001 or more Highlights denote significant differences by parent s level of academic attainment.

8 THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2013 As shown on the opposite page, the results are even more striking for parents who did not complete college, suggesting they may be less aware of the cost implications associated with college attendance than parents who have more direct experience with college. Parents who did not complete college are far more likely to be unsure of what they can spend as a family on their child s college education than parents who have a college degree or greater educational attainment (33.7% compared with 18.3%). Furthermore, the percentage willing to borrow at various amounts is telling. About 40% of parents who did not complete a college degree are unsure about how much they can or are willing to borrow compared with 26% of those with college degrees. Further, about half of parents with college degrees indicate they will borrow $15,000 or less per year, while a higher percentage of those without college degrees indicate a willingness to borrow at higher levels. A higher percentage of parents with college degrees know what they can fund through income and savings compared with those without college degrees. Generally, we can surmise that parents who did not complete college are less prepared for the financial implications of their child s education. Q. How will your child s educational costs be paid? Full Sample Without 4-Year With 4-Year Academic grants and scholarships (funds that will NOT need to be repaid) Funds from your income Funds your child will borrow (including student loans provided by the school) Funds from your savings other than college savings plans Other grants and scholarships (funds that will NOT need to be repaid) Funds from a 529 or other college savings plan Funds you will borrow (bank loans, home mortgage, credit cards, PLUS loans) Athletic grants and scholarships (funds that will NOT need to be repaid) Funds provided by relatives and friends Your child s income and/or savings ages represent the portion of the total education costs parents expect to be covered by each source. Highlights denote significant differences by parent s level of academic attainment. As displayed above, parents indicated a heavier reliance on income/savings and grants/scholarships than on loans. These results suggest parents recognize the implications of using loans to manage educational costs and prefer to fund their child s education in other ways. Yet parents without college degrees may believe they are less able to cover college costs without borrowing funds. 7

9 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS The following chart on the left shows the percentages of parents who expect some portion of their child s education to be funded through (1) income/savings, (2) grants/scholarships, and (3) loans. The chart on the right shows the percentages of parents who expect (1) income/savings, (2) grants/scholarships, or (3) loans to cover 100% of the cost of their child s education. Note that the vast majority of parents recognize they cannot rely on a single source to entirely fund their child s education. 60.0% 10.0% 55.7% 8.0% 9.4% 40.0% 20.0% 53.9% 37.9% 6.0% 4.0% 5.4% 2.0% 2.4% 0.0% Income/ savings Grants/ scholarships Loans 0.0% Income/ savings Grants/ scholarships Loans The following tables display findings regarding families plans to apply for scholarships and financial aid for their child. These data show slightly more parents this year than last year reporting they/their child will apply and expect to qualify for scholarships. Scholarships 2013 Study 2012 Study We will apply and expect to qualify for scholarships (i.e., academic, athletic, other) We will apply but don t know if my child will qualify for scholarships We will not apply for scholarships Need-Based Financial Aid 2013 Study 2012 Study We will apply but don t know if we will qualify for need-based financial aid We will apply and expect to qualify for need-based financial aid We will not apply for need-based financial aid

10 THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2013 KEY FINDING 3. PARENTS MAY BE WAITING TOO LATE IN THE COLLEGE SEARCH PROCESS TO ENABLE OPTIMAL DECISIONS THAT BALANCE COST AND QUALITY. When asked when they are most likely to consider college costs, 50.6% of parents reported they will consider costs only after the admission decision and financial awards have been received. Given the overall lack of savings and financial planning undertaken by most families, even among those at higher income levels, this wait-and-see approach could place families in a position of considering limited options at least in terms of the financial value. Although the differences are not statistically significant, the results suggest parents with a college degree may be more likely to consider the cost of college throughout their child s college choice process, while those without a college degree are more likely to consider costs and affordability only when admission decisions and financial aid awards are made. There is a clear disadvantage to families receiving financial information late in the college choice process. The result could be a delay in the child s education and/or a heavier reliance on loans. It was no surprise to find that parents who already have a child in college are more likely to consider costs throughout the process. Clearly, the experience of going through the financial aid process influences parent preparedness and planning. Q. At what stage of the college search process are you most likely to focus on college costs? Costs will come into play only after the admission decision and financial awards are received I am considering cost of attending throughout the college search process Cost of attending will be/was considered during the application phase Unsure/don t know 2.6 Costs will come into play only after the admission decision and financial awards are received. Without 4-Year With 4-Year I am considering cost of attending throughout the college search process Cost of attending will be/was considered during the application phase Unsure/don t know Costs will come into play only after the admission decision and financial awards are received. 1st Child to Attend College Not 1st Child to Attend College I am considering cost of attending throughout the college search process Cost of attending will be/was considered during the application phase Unsure/don t know Highlights denote significant differences by parent s level of academic attainment and by status of children in household attending college. 9

11 FINANCIAL PLANNING AND COLLEGE COSTS It is important to note that their lack of early planning may be related to when financial information is provided to parents by institutions. Many parents indicated they would like to receive financial information as early as their child s freshman year of high school. Yet many institutions do not send cost-related materials until considerably later, generally late in the junior year or into the senior year. Q. Considering the topics you want to know more about, when would you like to receive information? Student s Freshman Year Student s Sophomore Year Student s Junior Year Student s Senior Year Admission requirements General information about the college Sources of funds to pay for college Costs (e.g., tuition, fees, housing) Location of the school and area around it programs Majors/minors Financial aid Scholarships Careers related to specific majors Overall, parents say they will encourage their child to select the best overall package, given an assessment of costs, financial resources, and quality. This finding needs to be considered in light of the fact that many families have narrowed down their options prior to receiving financial information. Thus, the best financial package is already limited to those schools in the consideration set. Nearly two-thirds of parents reported that they would encourage their child to enroll at the school that offered the best overall package. Given that most parents are waiting to make financial decisions until after admission and financial aid is awarded, this best-package scenario is already one of limited options. Q. Which of the following statements best reflects your plans regarding scholarships and need-based financial aid and college choice? I will consider the best schools and encourage my child to enroll at the one offering the best total package (i.e., the most money/greatest discount) including merit-based scholarships and/or need-based financial aid I would encourage my child to enroll at the best school (i.e., the highest-ranked, most prestigious) regardless of the merit-based scholarships and/or need-based financial aid we receive I would encourage my child to enroll at the school that offers the best total package, even if it is not the best school

12 THE PARENT PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2013 WHAT CAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES DO TO HELP PARENTS BE BETTER PREPARED? Parents want to be more prepared to meet the financial requirements of their children s higher education aspirations. Survey findings suggest ways institutions can facilitate better financial planning among parents. The tools and guidelines institutions might offer are especially important for students whose parents did not complete a college degree themselves. 1. Bring parents into the conversation early and discuss the costs of college and the impact on the family s financial situation before your institution is removed from their consideration set. 2. Profile your institution in terms of the school characteristics parents value most the ones that will set their child up for success in school and upon graduation. Help parents think about the return on investment for their child s education at your institution. Provide salary estimates for likely careers being considered. Use alumni profiles to personalize the information. 3. Guard against families using a cost-estimate calculator as their sole source of cost information. Engage parents in conversations that allow you to provide necessary counsel regarding costs and the availability of grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. Encourage early campus visits (during students sophomore or junior years) that offer special opportunities to share important informational resources for families. Use blogs or other online resources that engage parents in discussions and information sharing. Activate a parent council among parents of current students and alumni as a resource for prospective students families. References Hicken, M. (March 6, 2013). Public College Tuition Spiked 8.3% Last Year, CNN Money, Available online: Sallie Mae (2013). How America Saves for College, Available online: https://www.salliemae.com/assets/core/ how-america-saves/howamericasaves_report2013.pdf StudentPoll (2012). A majority of students rule out college based on sticker price. StudentPoll, 9 (1), Available online: University Research Partners (Spring 2012). Engage Parents for More Engaged Students: Three Engagement Building Blocks for Enrollment Managers, Available online: 11

13 ABOUT THE STUDY Royall & Company s University Research Partners surveyed 2,046 parents of college-bound high school students. The study focused on parents opinions about the cost and perceived value of a college education for their child. The majority of parents participating in the study are married women with college-bound daughters; the majority of the students considered for the survey are high school seniors and will be the first among their siblings to attend college. On average, respondents are well-educated, are employed, and have significant household incomes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are represented by the study participants. A demographic overview of the participants: 78.4% are in traditional families (child is living with both parents in the same household). 73.5% are mothers/female guardians and 26.5% are fathers/male guardians. 57.0% have a daughter going to college and 43.0% have a son. 63.0% indicated this child will be their first to attend college. For 73.3%, the child is a high school senior; for 26.7%, the child is a high school junior. 70.9% are Caucasian and 29.1% are parents of color. 7.4% have an estimated household income of $30,000 or less, 15.0% have an income between $30,001 and $60,000, 17.9% have an income between $60,001 and $90,000, 19.8% have an income between $90,001 and $120,000, and 39.9% have an income of $120,001 or greater. 74.6% have a four-year degree or higher. 23.9% are from the Middle States, 20.3% are from the West, 19.8% are from the Midwest, 16.7% are from the South, 9.4% are from the Southwest, and 8.7% are from New England; 1.2% are from outside the U.S. For additional information about this study or other research on higher education, please contact Pamela Kiecker Royall, Ph.D., Head of Research, at or

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