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Shattering the Millennial American Dream: Mom & Dad Don’t Want to Pay for College

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As the cost of attending college continues to dramatically increase, parents of college-bound students are rethinking their role in helping their children earn degrees. Sixteen percent of parents with children ages 16 to 18 who plan to attend college said they will not be helping their kids pay for school, up from 12% in 2013, according to the latest edition of an annual survey from Discover Student Loans. That 16% figure is the same as it was in 2014.

Parents who do plan to pay for college may not be paying as much as parents used to: 24% said they couldn’t afford to pay anything (compared to 21% in 2014 and 2013), but the most common answer (31%) is that the parent plans to cover up to 25% of education expenses. Only 9% said they can pay for all of it (down from 11% in 2014 and 2013), 8% said they could pay for three-quarters of it (down from 11% last year and 12% the year before), and 18% think they can cover half the cost (19% in 2014 and 18% in 2013 said the same).

The trend continues: This year, a greater share of parents said their children will borrow student loans to pay for school (54%, up 2 percentage points from last year and 4 points from 2013), though 20% aren’t sure if their kids will need to take out loans, which is a lot of uncertainty for students so close to the traditional enrollment age.

Based on the responses to the survey, money is a huge concern for these parents: 58% said they are very worried about that student loan debt will affect their children’s ability to buy a home, a car or another large purchase, up slightly from 55% in 2014. It seems they want their kids to get a grip on their future finances, as well: 47% said earning potential after graduation is more important to their children’s education than their major (up 7 percentage points from 2014), and 44% said they would be more likely to fund education expenses if their children majored in fields with a higher likelihood of getting a job — just 33% of parents said that last year.

So, college students of the near future, take note: You might want to talk to your parents about how to approach paying for college, because it looks like you’re going to be responsible for some of it, if not bearing the vast majority or all of the expense. Using student loans to finance your education isn’t an inherently bad choice, but if you’re not careful about anticipating your expenses and future earnings, you could end up in a very difficult financial situation upon graduation. Student loans must be repaid — they’re rarely discharged in bankruptcy — and falling behind or defaulting on the debt will seriously damage your credit standing, which you need to buy or rent a home, get a car or even access utilities, without having to pay a hefty deposit. If you’re not sure where you stand credit-wise, there are many ways to get your credit scores for free, including on Credit.com.

This is the fourth edition of the Discover Student Loans survey, which includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults with college-bound 16- to 18-year-olds. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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  • heavyw8t

    We are at a point in society that the kids need to decide earlier in life what they want to be when they grow up. Unlike the 60s when I grew up, and the American Dream included buying a house and being able to send your kids to college as some kind of symbol of affluence, college is not always the best route anymore. At the corner of my street is a gas station, across from which is a Subway. That gas station has 2 employees, both in their mid 20s, who have BA degrees but can’t find a job because they got a degree in something that doesn’t translate to employment. There is also one at that Subway. That has to be a common theme. How many art majors do we need in an economy where Joe Average has no money to buy art? How many cultural anthropologists can the world hold? Equally as cogent is the fact that the more cerebral professions like medicine and law not only have extremely difficult scholastic standards but are already over populated. The people who are working are car mechanics, plumbers, home improvement people… trades that people contract with because they are keeping their car an extra few years and can not afford to move to a nice home, leaving renovation as the only feasible option. College in 2015 doesn’t mean the same thing it meant in when I got out of high school in 1969. My degree is in music. It was great THEN because I played music and wanted that to be my career field. (There were no DJs at the time.) And as hard as I worked to get that degree, when I was handed the sheepskin, my first thought was “Okay. Now what? I don’t play any better for having gone through 3 years of college than 3 more years of practice on my own would have accomplished. And I don’t want to teach. What is this degree going to do for me?” And 40 years after completing those credit hours and sweating through a recital, here I am having never used anything I studied in that 3 years. (Yes, I finished in 3 years.)

    This time of life and this state of economy really calls for some serious thought before a kid undertakes that time and money investment. It’s important to think about what is at the other end of that 4 year tunnel. Kids everywhere finish college and find themselves at 22 years of age starting their adult life with no job and $150,000 of college loan debt.

    • FutureFox

      Would be maybe parents should think about having kids a bit later in life (if at all), buy a small house and maybe have only one kid. If more than one kid then stagger the ages out so the family has some room to save between years.

      Actually it seemed in the 50s and through the 60s the country was really gearing kids to go into math and science because of the whole nuclear threat, arms race, cold war, etc stuff going on. Now the push is IT professions or something computer related. And that’s the “recommended” approach, never mind the fact the child has a mind of its own and may not want to pursue anything indoctrinated or recited as a must pursue career.

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