Gen Z Charts a Practical Path to College According to 2018 College Savings Foundation Survey of High School Students

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Today's high school students are making practical choices for higher ed based on its costs and potential impact on their careers. These self-reliant Gen Zs are planning to work, reduce expenses, and make the necessary trade-offs to fund their choices, with an eye to building skills for future employment.

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Richard J. Polimeni, Chair, College Savings Foundation

“High school students are taking responsibility for their education choices and making decisions early in life to support them. We’re encouraged to see that saving is already an important part of their education planning process.” -- Richard J. Polimeni, College Savings Foundation Chair

Today’s high school students are practical consumers who are choosing their higher education paths knowing the costs of school and the trade-offs necessary to fund it. The College Savings Foundation’s 9th annual How Youth Plan to Fund College survey of sophomores, juniors and seniors across the country revealed the characteristics of independence and self-reliance that are often attributed to their age group, “Generation Z.” For example, 86% of high schoolers are looking to pay at least part of their higher education costs. 75% said that costs are a factor in deciding which school to attend, and the majority, 57%, is already saving for it.

“High school students are taking responsibility for their education choices and making decisions early in life to support them,” said Richard J. Polimeni, CSF Chair. “We’re encouraged to see that saving is already an important part of their education planning process.”

The self-determining characteristics were also displayed in how they will help cover higher ed costs or reduce expenses. 85% of high school students plan to work in college and 62% plan to cut costs by living at home. The majority (51%) of all high school students are currently working to earn money for their higher education.

The findings also revealed that students are thinking about the long-term value of their education. 81% would like to see colleges promote education and skills-training rather than only offering majors for future employment, and 70% would prefer to go to an institution taking that approach. In addition, 63% said that their career plans were affecting their school choice.

Students are talking with their parents about college plans. 82% talk about their involvement in financing college. When speaking to their parents about college-related topics, 43% of students said the number one topic was the career path they want to follow, with 27% saying it was the type of school they wanted to attend.

53% of students surveyed are going to a 4-year college, with 41% going to public and 12% to private college. Over a third – 36% of students – are heading to community college (28%) or vocational/career programs (8%).

Students seem to embrace multiple paths to higher education, with the majority, 52%, saying that they think of vocational/career schools and apprenticeship programs in the same way as they do college.

Motivated to Save and Reduce Debt Dependence

The survey found that the majority of high school students, 57%, are actively saving for higher education, primarily in a savings account and in 529 college savings plans. Students have been successful in amassing funds, with 65% already saving $1,000 or more towards higher education costs.

Accordingly, they prioritize monetary gifts to help with that savings. 67% of high school students would rather receive money for education on special occasions rather than tangible gifts.

The majority of students, 52%, said their parents are also saving, primarily in savings accounts and 529 college savings plans. 59% of those whose parents were saving said their parents have saved more than $5,000 and 35% said their parents have saved more than $15,000.

Students’ focus on saving may be due at least in part to their concern about student debt, which currently exceeds $1.4 trillion in the U.S. 65% think that they will or possibly borrow money outside of a financial aid package, with 43% anticipating needing to borrow more than a quarter of their education costs.

The majority, 54%, is very or somewhat concerned about their ability to pay it back.

Some additional findings of the survey:

  • Costs impact higher ed decisions in a variety of ways: 65% of students said that costs affected whether they attend college at all. A majority, 52%, said that costs mattered in deciding on whether to attend college part- or full-time.
  • Students will contribute significantly to the costs of higher ed: A total of 86% -- 36% definitely and 50% possibly – are planning to pay for part or all of their higher education costs. Of those, 64% of them will pay for at least a quarter of their total education costs.
  • Work is the leading reason to take a gap year: 21% of students are taking a gap year, but 58% of them were doing so to work.

The 2018 How Youth Plan to Fund College survey reached over 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors across the country via Survey Monkey. The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals. http://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org

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