Report: Families Satisfied With Higher Education Costs Are Not Always Those Paying Less

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

As policymakers and stakeholders continue to debate the value of a higher education, a new report suggests that families’ and students’ satisfaction with the price tag on enrolling in college is not always tied to how much they pay.

Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2019,” conducted in partnership with Ipsos, instead found that families who said that the higher education they are paying for is an “excellent value” and “worth every penny”—which accounted for 20% of families surveyed—are those who feel that the “school meets or exceeds their expectations.” 

In fact, those families actually paid more on average in the 2018-19 academic year ($24,396) than those who said they thought their education was “appropriately priced” ($22,744). While families who perceived that their students’ higher education was “significantly overpriced” or “somewhat overpriced” paid more—$31,426 and $31,374, respectively— the report noted the same for those who said their education “was somewhat of a bargain” ($29,499). 

“Interestingly, when looking at the perceived value of their education as compared to the price they’re paying, there is not a consistent slope from those paying more and saying their education is overpriced to those paying less and stating their education is an excellent value,” according to the report. 

The report found that one significant difference between families who were very satisfied with the cost of their students’ higher education and those that weren’t was their understanding of what they would have to pay. The report found 14% of families that found their education to be significantly overpriced “reported being surprised by the total costs, seven times the proportion who mentioned this from families who perceive they are getting an excellent value.”

One way to get better information to students and families about the financial obligations of enrolling in higher education is to ensure they understand the financial aid packages they are being offered in their award notifications.     

Last year, NASFAA’s Board of Directors voted to support policies that would mandate certain elements and common terminology to be included in institutions' award notifications, and NASFAA released a set of example award notifications to serve as guidance for universities and colleges, as well as an issue brief urging Congress to adopt NASFAA's recommendations. Most recently, the Department of Education (ED) released an updated College Financing Plan (CFP) for voluntary use in 2019-20 with additional data elements, and NASFAA provided feedback, such as renaming confusing elements. 

In addition to unmet expectations regarding cost, the report noted that other disappointments among students and families stemmed from issues such as the amount of schoolwork to parking problems.  

“[W]hen the experience is in line with expectations, families feel college is worth the price they are paying; and when it falls short of expectations, many families feel they aren’t getting a good value,” the report found. 


Publication Date: 8/1/2019

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