Most American parents have not reduced the amount they are saving for their children's college educations as a result of the recession, but most are considering cheaper schools, says a new survey.
Sixty percent say they haven't reduced their amount of college savings. But 57% say they are considering or planning to consider more affordable colleges because of the recession, and 82% are willing to have their child go to a community college for two years before they attend a four-year school, according to survey released Monday by OppenheimerFunds Inc.
The nationwide survey of more than 1,000 parents of pre-college age kids showed 77% have saved less than $20,000 for their children's college expenses; 62% have saved less than $10,000, and 43% have saved less than $5,000. Twelve percent have saved nothing at all.
Parents of children closest to college-those ages 15 to 18-are not necessarily stronger savers. More than half (55%) of these families have saved less than $10,000 for college, 40% have saved less than $5,000, and 13% have saved nothing at all.
At the same time, more than half (56%) of the parents surveyed think scholarship money will pay for a substantial portion of their kids' college education. While many students receive some kind of grant aid, the amounts received and annual costs significantly differ.
According to the College Board, about two-thirds of all full-time undergraduates nationally receive grant aid. In 2008-09, aid in the form of grants and tax benefits averaged about $3,700 for in-state students at public four-year colleges, compared with an average annual total cost of $14,333, and aid averaged about $10,200 per student at private four-year colleges, compared with an average annual cost of $34,132, according to the 2008 Trends In College Pricing Report by The College Board. (The total costs include tuition and fees and room and board.)
Yet nearly 80% of parents say they want to cover 50% or more of their kids' college expenses, and 24% say they want to cover the full amount. Among Americans who want to cover at least part of their kids' college expenses, 66% say they want to do this because it's very important for their kids to graduate college with as little debt as possible. For 87%, a very important reason is that they would hate for their kids to have to drop out of college for financial reasons.
Of the respondents, 47% had a financial advisor, and 56% of those parents had discussed saving for college with their advisor in the last year.
Parents who have used 529 plans are twice as likely as those who have not (31% versus 16%) to have saved at least $20,000 for their kids' college education, and are more likely to say they plan to cover 50% or more of their kids' college expenses (90% versus 75%).
The OppenheimerFunds poll was conducted via telephone between February 2 and 26 by the national polling firm Mathew Greenwald & Associates. To qualify for the study, respondents had to be parents of a child age 18 or younger who is not currently attending college. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level for the entire sample of 1,001 is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.