More teens see the need to help save for college

05/27/2014 5:13 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

A parent recently asked me whether it was OK to require her kids to help pay for college.

By all means, I answered. By. All. Means.

It’s always a good thing when kids have skin in the game. Not only are they more likely to take the college process more responsibly, they will realize they’re part of a team effort of sacrificing and saving. It’s not just Mom’s and Dad’s problem to deal with.

And beyond the behavioral economics, simple math says every dollar your student contributes means one less dollar to borrow.

It appears more teens are getting religion.

A survey released in late May by the College Savings Foundation found that 82 percent of the high school students interviewed believed they have a responsibility to tap their funds to help pay for college. That’s a significant bump from the 74 percent who responded to that question in 2013.

At the same time, the foundation found that 41 percent of those students who were seniors had become more frugal — giving up electronics, a car and other material items to save for college. Moreover, more than half of those seniors have gotten jobs, and about the same percentage expect to work their way through school.

“There’s a growing recognition (among teens) that they need to help pull their weight,” Mary Morris, chairwoman of the nonprofit College Savings Foundation, a college savings advocacy group, said in an interview.

That attitude may have partly been shaped by how teens’ parents were affected by the Great Recession and the slowly recovering economy and by the growing realization that college costs and student loan debt burdens are not slowing down, said Morris, who also runs Virginia’s 529 college savings plans.

The foundation’s fifth annual “How Youth Plan to Fund College” survey provides a good sense of what’s going on in the minds of more than 500 high school seniors, juniors and sophomores pertaining to college financing and making affordable choices between traditional four-year schools, junior colleges and vocational programs.

While it’s admirable that the vast majority of the students surveyed feel they should be financially responsible for their own education, less than half of them have started. Part of that problem may be in goal setting and coming up with a targeted dollar amount to set aside, the survey noted.

There are plenty of online college financing calculators that can help deal with that problem. One of the newest planning tools was launched in mid-May by Sallie Mae, the educational financial services company. Check it out at SallieMae.com/PlanForCollege.

The College Savings Foundation survey also noted that the vast majority of students expect to receive some form of financial aid, from scholarships, grants or loans.

But at the same time, more than half of those students surveyed said their parents are saving for college and nearly 40 percent started when their children were born. Study after study has shown that starting to save for college at an early age can make a huge difference.

Which brings me to the critical role parents can play. Before shelling out big dollars to send your children to their dream school and short-circuiting your retirement savings in the process, talk as a family about what you can afford to pay and how the kids can help. And if your 18-year-old isn’t sure what he or she wants to study in college, consider a more affordable community college.

“The family that plans together is the family that will be well prepared” for handling college costs, Morris said.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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