Personal Finance

College plans rebound although cost remains a top concern, survey finds

Key Points
  • In the wake of the pandemic, most high school seniors are going back to their pre-Covid college plans.
  • Still, nearly two-thirds of parents are worried about having enough money to cover the cost, according to a report.

In this article

How families can appeal for more college financial aid
How families can appeal for more college financial aid

Last year, many high school seniors dramatically changed their expectations about the future.

This year, more students are getting back on track.

Nearly two-thirds of parents, or 63%, said their child's post-high school plans have returned to what they were before the global pandemic, according to a report by Discover Student Loans.

Of those who have changed their college plans, most said they will now go to a school closer to home, attend an online university or go to a less-expensive place.

Discover polled 1,000 parents of college-bound students in May.

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When Covid brought the economy to a standstill, one-quarter of last year's high school graduates delayed their college plans, according to a separate survey from Junior Achievement and Citizens, largely because their parents or guardians were less able to provide financial support.

Even now, cost remains a top concern. Although about 40% of parents said their ability to help pay has improved since this time last year, 63% remain concerned about having enough money for higher education, Discover found.

College affordability and dealing with the debt burden that often goes hand in hand with a degree is parents and students' top worry, The Princeton Review also found in its 2021 College Hopes & Worries survey.

Meanwhile, the price tag is only going up.

Average tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year increased by 1.1% to $10,560 for in-state students at four-year public colleges, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid. The data also showed tuition and fees at four-year private institutions rose by 2.1% to $37,650.

Most students must borrow to cover the cost, which has already propelled total student loan debt in the U.S. past $1.7 trillion.

Going forward, a 2021 high school graduate could take on as much as $38,147 in student loans, on average, according to a recent NerdWallet analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That's up from $37,200 for 2020 high school grads. 

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