Survey: Concerns, Lack of Knowledge Over College Costs Loom Large for High School Students, Families

Quick Takeaways:

  • Seventy-five percent of college-bound high school students said that increases in college costs would have at least some or a large influence on where they ultimately go to college;
  • Ninety-five percent of respondents have applied or intend to apply for financial aid and 72 percent said that institutions should be able to use a portion of tuition money to fund need-based aid for low-income students;
  • Seventy-six percent said that college costs are “out of control” and 88 percent said they are concerned about how rising costs will impact the cost of their education.

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

The cost of higher education continues to be a major concern among college-bound students and families, with many lacking information on key issues related to cost and financial aid, according to a recent studentPOLL survey.

StudentPOLL is a collaborative polling service from the ACT and Art & Science Group that focuses on the behaviors and perceptions of college-bound high school students and parents. The most recent survey looked at the attitudes of college-bound high schools students towards college costs in February 2015, which studentPOLL notes is the period of time after they have filed college applications but have not yet received offers of admission or financial aid awards. 

Of the 975 students who completed the survey, 90 percent said they plan to complete college in four years. However, 75 percent of respondents said that increases in college costs would have at least some or a large influence on where they ultimately go to college, with 59 percent of those respondents saying they plan to attend an in-state public university. The same percentage, 59 percent, said they plan to work part-time or more while attending school next year and 33 percent said they plan to attend a school with a reputation for generous financial aid.

The survey found that 95 percent of respondents have applied or intend to apply for financial aid, with 45 percent saying they were looking at the sticker price of the school and 44 percent saying they were looking at the cost after deducting financial aid. Thirty percent of students from families with incomes of $150,000 or more said they look at costs after deducting what they think they will get in financial aid.

A majority of respondents – 72 percent – said that institutions should be able to use a portion of the money collected from tuition payments to fund need-based aid for low-income students, a sentiment supported by 84 percent of respondents from families with incomes less than $30,000. Sixty-one percent of respondents from families with incomes over $150,000 support such set-asides, as well as 69 percent of respondents from families with incomes between $30,000 and $15,000. 

The survey also asked about the resources students are using to research financial aid and how to pay for college, finding that 81 percent used the FAFSA website and 36 percent used online financial aid or net tuition calculators found on third-party, college, or government websites.  Other possible responses included:

  • High school guidance counselor (59 percent of respondents);
  • Friends and family (50 percent);
  • Colleges’ brochures about financial aid and scholarships (45 percent);
  • Financial aid workshops at colleges or high schools (29 percent); and 
  • Government sponsored tools such as College Navigator or College Scorecard (11 percent).

Respondents were also asked to estimate the average amount of debt college graduates incur, giving a mean value of $42,033, which studentPOLL notes is “well above” the national average of just over $28,000 for Bachelor’s degree holders. When asked to estimate their own expected debt level, respondents gave a mean value of $31,800. However, only 25 percent of respondents said they looked at the average debt level for graduates at the schools they were interested in attending.

When asked about how college costs are perceived based on the media, 76 percent said that college costs are “out of control” and 88 percent said they are concerned about how rising costs will impact the cost of their education. Seventy-four percent said that their parents were very concerned about how they much they would have to pay in the future. 

Parents also have an influence on the students’ behavior, with 67 percent of respondents answering “Yes” when asked “if their parents influenced them in discussing ‘the cost of college you can afford.’” Seventy-one percent said their parents did not eliminate a school choice because of cost, and 66 percent said their parents did not insist that the student pay for more or all college costs. 

The “lack of information and understanding” shown in the survey results “underscores an important opportunity for colleges and universities willing to think imaginatively about how they communicate costs and aid early in the admissions process,” particularly for low-income and first-generation students, studentPOLL notes in the survey analysis.  “In short, it’s a universal problem. And this makes it a universal opportunity for institutions prepared to act.”

 

Publication Date: 6/12/2015


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