Personal Finance

Kids, want college money? Don't look to parents

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Has college tuition reached a tipping point?

The cost of higher education has been rising for years, and now parents are becoming less and less willing to shoulder much of the burden, according to a survey by Discover Student Loans.

In 2012, 39 percent of parents thought their children should pay most or all of their college costs. But in 2014, 47 percent held that view.

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Crowdfunding college tuition
Crowdfunding college tuition

The reasons for the shift are not clear. The cost of college simply may be overwhelming, what with tuition having increased more than 30 percent at public and private universities between 2000 and 2012.

But there could be a more positive reason as well, said Danny Ray, president of Discover Student Loans. "I wonder if part of that is parents are feeling a little better about the economic outlook, so they think their kids are going to be in a better position to pay for it."

Nearly three-fourths of the parents who responded to the survey said they were somewhat or very worried about having enough money to help their child with college, but that was down slightly from a year earlier.

College costs are soaring—but not all aid is

The survey also found that parents are less inclined than they were a year earlier to limit a child's choice of college based on price. And 53 percent said they were no more likely to pay for college if their child majored in a field with strong employment prospects, compared to 44 percent in 2013.

"Personally, I thought it was very interesting that such a high percentage were very worried or very concerned or somewhat concerned about being able to pay for college," Ray said. "But when we looked at things like are you restricting what you will spend or where students can go based on cost, it was another direction.

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Who pays for college education? Not Mom and Dad

One good piece of news is that when you deduct grants, other aid, and work study earnings from official tuition, the cost to families (other than interest on any loans) has risen more slowly than the official tuition numbers.

Certainly scholarships and grants are covering a larger portion of college costs. A 2013 study by Sallie Mae had scholarships and grants covering 30 percent of college costs, up from 25 percent for years earlier.

But borrowing to pay for college has been rising steadily as well. Average loans for higher education rose 45 percent from 2000 to 2012, to $4,500 according to federal data. At private colleges, average debt rose 22 percent to $6,200. And the Discover survey found that parents say they are less likely to help their children repay loans than they were a year ago.

Navigating the landscape of increased college costs

Parents do still think college matters: 96 percent said they think college is somewhat or very important to their children's future.

But kids, if you want to go to college, it may well be on you.