Not long ago, I was asked by a reader to discuss if it was a good idea for parents to make their children help pay for college.
“What’s to discuss?” I replied. “That makes all the sense in the world.”
Regardless of whether parents can afford to pay the tab, I absolutely believe students should have some of their own skin in the tuition game. After all, they’re the beneficiaries of a very expensive educational purchase, and tapping their own savings may further their commitment to focusing in the classroom and graduating in four years.
They may also come away with a greater appreciation of how much their parents scrimped, saved and sacrificed, especially during the depths of the recession.
Evidently, more students are thinking that way, according to a survey released in late May by the nonprofit College Savings Foundation.
The fourth annual survey of more than 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors found that 49 percent have started saving for college, up from 45 percent in 2012. Most have saved at least $1,000 — small in the grand scheme but a start.
How will they cover college costs?
The vast majority — nearly 93 percent — said they will or may work while in college. The majority also said they will try to balance pulling down a paycheck with hitting the books as full-time students, although many said working will force them to attend school part time or study less.
“Yet many of these students are undaunted, with almost half acknowledging that working will be a good experience,” the foundation noted in its analysis of the data.
Despite their intentions to save and work, the survey said about two-thirds of the respondents still expect to borrow to cover tuition, books, room and board.
The survey’s findings brought both concern and delight to Carol Stack, co-author with Ruth Vedvik of “The Financial Aid Handbook.”
One finding that jumped out, she said, was that students might attend part time or have less time to study as they work to cover college costs.
“At its best, college is a full-time endeavor,” Stack said. “And while there are benefits to working part time in college, ideally I would love to see students complete their college education in four years rather than have it, and associated costs, drag on with part-time attendance.”
Another concern: Students appear to be dropping higher-priced private schools from consideration — only 17 percent planned to attend private colleges, down from 21 percent in 2012. But many private schools, Stack said, slash their sticker price through grants and scholarships to make the “cost of private education more doable than a public school.”
On the other hand, Stack said she was encouraged to see that 59 percent of the students surveyed were more willing to forgo material things, such as cars and expensive cellphones, to save for college. That’s up from 56 percent last year.
On the key questions about paying for college, I thought one student said it well: “I have known I was going to go to college since I was 8 years old. I have saved and worked so I can pay my own way and will not require support from loans or from my family. If more people would do the same, we would have less of a college loan payback problem. There is no free ride. We should be responsible for our own education.”