Personal Finance

68% of parents are worried about paying for college amid Covid-19

Key Points
  • With more Americans under financial strain due to the coronavirus, parents of college-bound students face a harsh reality. 
  • Nearly 70% of families are worried about paying for college and more than half now say their higher education plans have changed due to Covid-19, according to a  report.
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As more Americans experience economic shock due to the ongoing coronavirus, there's a growing fear among certain families: how they will pay for college.

Roughly two-thirds, or 68%, of parents of college-bound students now say they are more worried about paying for their child's college education in the wake of the pandemic, according to a report by Discover Student Loans. The survey polled 1,500 parents of college-bound teenagers in early March and again in May. 

"As you would expect, the pandemic has put some strain in families' finances," said Manny Chagas, Discover's vice president of student loans.

A separate poll by NitroCollege.com of high school seniors entering college in the fall also found that 69% of parents and 55% of students said Covid-19 impacted their ability to pay for school.

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"I've never seen students and parents this anxious this time of year," said Eric Greenberg, president of Greenberg Educational Group, a New York-based consulting firm. "We have a lot of families talking about starting at community colleges or in-state state schools or taking a gap year." 

More than half of parents, or 53%, said their child's higher education plans have changed due to Covid-19, Discover also found. By necessity, some students will attend a school closer to home, delay going to college or choose a less expensive public, rather than private, college.  

In addition, families will need to dip into savings and rely on financial aid more than before.

Fifty-five percent of parents said they were concerned their child is not receiving enough in scholarships — a 14% jump from the same survey in early March — and 54% of parents said they'll need to use their savings to pay for their child's college education, up from 47% before the pandemic.  

Already, nearly 40% of parents have tapped their child's college fund to help cover expenses due to economic fallout from the pandemic, according to a separate survey by LendingTree. Another 15% of those surveyed said that they don't have a college fund for their kids at all.

To bridge the growing gap between income and tuition expenses, student loan balances will also likely rise as more families must borrow money to cover college costs.

Typically, 7 in 10 college seniors graduate in the red, owing about $30,000 per borrower, according to data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

Going forward, a 2020 high school graduate could face $37,200 in loans in pursuit of a degree at a public college or university, according to a NerdWallet analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

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