One bright spot among the findings was college students' expected spending on home décor. According to the NRF, half of college shoppers will buy dorm or apartment furnishings, and they plan to spend an average of $126.30. That represents a 30 percent increase over last year, and the most since the trade group began asking the question in 2007.
The survey's tepid results follow a more bullish poll by the National Retail Federation last month, which found that parents of both K-12 and college students planned to spend more this year. And on Tuesday, the International Council of Shopping Centers released the findings from its back-to-school shopping study, which found that 67 percent of back-to-school shoppers plan to spend more than last year.
Although these forecasts mirror improvements in the broader economy, not everyone has been optimistic about the second-largest shopping season. Also last month, America's Research Group's Chairman Britt Beemer said that back-to-school sales would only rise marginally this year, perhaps posting only a half-point increase.
Read MoreBack-to-school spending seen rising, but...
This trepidation was mirrored by reaction to Tuesday's lackluster retail sales results.
"The consumer isn't very strong and by extension, neither is the U.S. economy," BTIG's chief strategist, Dan Greenhaus, told investors after the Commerce Department report.
Still, ICSC spokesman Jesse Tron said he views June's results as "more of a one off," adding they are not an indication that back-to-school sales will be weak. Because May's 1 percent growth was strong, Tron said, it's likely that some sales for June—which is traditionally a low-volume month—were pulled earlier into May.
It's also worth noting that on a year-over-year basis, retail sales rose 1.4 percent in the month of June.
"I would look for July and August to probably be a lot better off than June," Tron said.