Survey: Students, Parents Perceive Financial Aid as Confusing, Underestimate Cost

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

Many current and prospective college students underestimate the total cost of attending college, see the federal financial aid application process as confusing, and worry about their ability to finish college without withdrawing, according to a new survey.

In its 2018 College Confidence Index, Allianz Tuition surveyed 1,000 current and prospective college students and 1,000 parents on their perceptions of college. Overall, both groups underestimated how much it costs to attend college when taking into account tuition and fees, room and board. Students on average estimated spending $15,200 on tuition and fees, room and board, and parents anticipated spending $15,733. According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees, room and board costs for in-state students at public universities were $20,770 in 2017-18. That does not take into account other costs such as transportation, books and supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Students and parents also showed concern when it came to their confidence in the student’s ability to finish college without withdrawing. Just over half of parents, 51 percent, said they were very confident in their children’s ability to finish without withdrawing, down from 57 percent in the previous year’s index. Fifty-four percent of students said they were very confident about finishing without withdrawing, but 40 percent of current students said they’ve thought about withdrawing.

Chief among the reasons a student might withdraw from college was a family emergency, such as an unexpected change in finances (cited by 76 percent of students and 57 percent of parents), the mental health condition of a student (cited by 68 percent of students and 42 percent of parents), and the death of a parent (cited by 64 percent of students and 44 percent of parents). Overall, 93 percent of students and 82 percent of parents said a family emergency could lead to temporary or permanent withdrawal.

Adding to the uncertainty, students and parents appeared to be concerned with the process of applying for financial aid. Among current students — those who have likely already had experience applying for financial aid — 44 percent said they perceived the FAFSA as somewhat or very confusing, compared with 34 percent of prospective students. Just over one-third of parents of current college students (35 percent) and 41 percent of parents of prospective college students found the FAFSA very or somewhat confusing.

“Uncertainty is a dominant theme surrounding all aspects of preparing for, financing and completing college, but clearly parents and students have differing issues of greatest concern,” said Dan Durazo, marketing and communications director at Allianz Global Assistance, in a statement. “The results of this year’s College Confidence Index signal that colleges and universities, financial advisors and related services, such as tuition protection, could play a more prominent role in helping remove some of the financial worries about college tuition so students can focus on their education.”


Publication Date: 7/11/2018

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