Across the country, millions of students are returning to their high schools, catching up with their friends, starting fall sports and planning for college. At the same time, millions of families are trying to figure out how to pay for it all.
But a recent study shows that while many young people understand the need for education beyond high school to help achieve their goals, a huge segment is unprepared for the vast financial commitment.
What’s more, many families have only minimal savings accrued for what can be a massive financial decision.
The survey by Junior Achievement USA and Citizens Bank found that an astounding 52 percent of high school juniors, 40 percent of high school seniors and 34 percent of college freshman said they are unprepared for managing educational costs and paying for college.
One telltale reason for the trepidation: the research found that a large segment has less than $1,000 set aside for higher education.
Indeed, the percentage of teens with less than $1,000 in their college savings accounts is staggering — 39 percent of high school juniors, 30 percent of high school seniors and 29 percent of college freshman.
Only 11 percent of juniors, 14 percent of seniors and 19 percent of college freshmen said that they were “very prepared” for managing the costs of college.
That is likely due in part to a lack of education about the costs of higher education. Well over half of each class agrees that they have not done enough research about how to pay for college. And a large segment of each class has either never spoken to their parents or spoken to their parents only once about paying for and managing the cost of college.
Other troublesome data from the survey is teens’ lack of awareness of the actual cost of a college education. For example, when asked the average annual tuition at a four-year private college, 58 percent of high school juniors, 44 percent of high school seniors and 42 percent of college freshman said that they didn’t know. Similar knowledge gaps exist in their understanding of the costs at public universities.
The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research and polled the views of 500 U.S. high school juniors, 500 U.S. high school seniors and 500 U.S. college freshmen. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
The data suggest that efforts to educate high schoolers and their families about the ever-rising cost of higher education are not gaining sufficient traction. This is despite many public schools offering seminars for students and parents on financing college.
The knowledge deficit when it comes to college costs is unacceptable — because enrolling a young person in college is fast becoming among a family’s most far-reaching financial decisions, with all the attendant issues such as excessive debt load and career decisions affected by those costs.
U.S. News & World Report, which closely tracks tuition in its annual rankings, found that college costs have skyrocketed over the last two decades and continue their exo-atmospheric climb:
As the survey found, the large majority of teens today recognize that a degree is a pathway to success. To help position them for their future we would suggest that parents teach financial literacy at an early age and make plans together with their children to save for college as early as possible.
When it comes to college, spend time talking about what your child wants to get out of it and help them come up with a plan that works best for their financial future. Help them put college costs into context. One way to do so would be to calculate what they can expect to pay each month after they graduate.
Following these simple tips can go a long way but these results make it clear that the cost of college and the effect it can have on a student’s future needs to be a priority conversation beginning at an earlier age.
Jack Kosakowski is president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. Brendan Coughlin is the head of consumer deposits and lending at Citizens Bank. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.