Only 45 percent of 16- and 17-year-old high school students have begun saving for a college education, according to the College Savings Foundation’s third annual How Youth Plan to Fund College survey, released Wednesday.
Many of these students expressed a desire to prepare — 74 percent of students said they want to save for post-secondary education. And 78 percent said they are at least partially responsible to pay part of their college educations.
The data show that students have a desire to pay but are confused about how to do it.
"This is a clarion call for financial literacy," Roger Michaud, CSF chairman, said. "We need to better prepare both parents and their children with the skills and strategies to cope with the costs of college."
Fewer students are choosing to attend public schools and are switching to private schools that tend to be more expensive.
Of those surveyed, 21 percent said they plan to attend a private school this year versus 16 percent in 2011. Public school ambitions dropped to 45 percent from 51 percent in 2011.
Not all findings in the survey were negative.
According to the report, parents are becoming more involved in financing their children’s educations. Forty-five percent of parents are saving for their children’s educations, compared to 39 percent last year.
Students still plan to rely on loans to cover their education costs, with 63 percent of respondents saying they expected to borrow to pay for college. Three-quarters of those students plan to cover more than 25 percent of their college costs with student debt. Nearly all respondents are concerned about their debt burden after graduating.
That concern has failed to spur an increase in planning among students.
Only 25 percent of students who plan to borrow have planned out the total loan amount they will need to cover costs, compared to 30 percent who knew in 2011. Twenty percent have projected what they will owe each month to pay the debt, down from 22 percent in 2011.
But students are eager to learn how to deal with college expenses, with 51 percent saying they wished their current high school offered financial literacy instruction. And 52 percent of students have researched tuition costs of their prospective schools, a rise from 49 percent last year.
"Funding college is an enormous challenge, and to their credit, these high school students want to get a better understanding of how to tackle it," Michaud said.
Many parents worry about how they will pay for their children’s educations. Experts in financial education have offered tips on how to pay for college.
Jason Alderman, director of Visa’s financial education programs, offered key factors to consider when financing higher education in a guest column for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa.
Some of these tips include not taking on debt that will overwhelm your future ability to pay it off, calculating the true cost of college through “net price” calculators and filling out free applications for federal student aid, or FAFSA forms.
“So, assuming your kid is interested in college, ask yourself, ‘How much can we afford to spend without digging ourselves into a hole?’ ” Alderman said. “Unless you started socking away money long ago or Junior can count on a full-ride scholarship, you’ll probably need to take out student (and parent) loans to pay for that degree. Tread carefully so you’re not saddled with too much debt.”
Some schools are requiring financial literacy classes for their students.
High school students in the Mat-Su Borough School District in Wasilla, Ala., will be required to have financial literacy by the time they graduate, according to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. In the newly required classes, like one taught by Mat-Su Career and Tech High School teacher Chris Taylor, students will learn budgeting, investing and managing debt.
“I feel we do such a great job, especially in our district, of preparing students for careers in trades or (professional careers),” Taylor told the Frontiersman. “But we don’t ever teach them what to do with that money once they make it.”
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