Families Are Learning More About Paying For College, But Still Missing Vital, Costly Points

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Students and their families are not only aware of the issues facing them when it comes for paying for college, they are also planning and making their decisions about college education influenced by those issues, according to a new survey from Art & Science, a consulting firm that specializes in higher education issues. But even though families are improving in their understanding of paying for college, and where to find information, they may not be discussing important issues that will impact how much college will actually cost.

For those families who have recently sent a student to college or approaching the end of a high school career, the idea that college costs impact a decision of where to go to college is hardly news. But what Arts & Sciences’ “SchoolPoll” survey shows is that students and families are becoming increasingly aware of opportunities presented by completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and contacting schools to know more about financial aid options available for their students.

Of the nearly-2,000 college-bound students who responded to the group’s email poll, 95 percent have applied, or plan to apply, for financial aid, though only half of the students are considering sticker prices before factoring in financial aid as part of their ultimate determination in choosing a college. While the report is quick to add that other non-financial factors as academic, co-curricular, and social aspects of the student experience still play a large part of what encourages a student, 88 percent of respondents claimed concerns over rising college costs impacting education (76 percent thought costs were rising “out of control”).

Discussing those costs, though, might be a bit of a mixed bag if the survey’s results are any indication. While 71 percent of respondents stated that their parents did not rule out applying to a particular school because of cost, only 67 percent said that parents discussed how much college a family could afford. This may lead to a skewed number of students who see themselves being able to afford college more easily, as 90 percent of high school students planned on finishing college in four years, even though the National Center for Education Statistics states that only 50 percent of students seeking a four-year degree graduate in that time. The numbers suggest that there is still room for increased discussion about the financial realities of paying for college, but that even with the growing focus on educational costs in the media behaviors about attending college have not changed.

One area that the survey’s results suggest would benefit from change is in the FAFSA. The 81 percent of respondents who claimed to use the FAFSA website for financial aid information sends an encouraging message, but still leaves room for a more-simplified FAFSA to increase the number of students completing the application. The drop-off in alternative financial aid sources was severe, as the second-most used source for financial aid information was high school counselors, rating only 59 percent of the respondents, and college financial aid department websites, with 57 percent.

Arts & Science’s “StudentPoll” provides a snapshot of the improvements in college financial aid, but still illustrates areas that, once solved, will go a long way to helping the current issues with paying for college education.

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