College plans rebound although cost remains a top concern, survey finds

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Last year, many high school seniors dramatically changed their expectations about the future.

This year, more students are getting back on track.

Nearly two-thirds of parents, or 63%, said their child’s post-high school plans have returned to what they were before the global pandemic, according to a report by Discover Student Loans.

Of those who have changed their college plans, most said they will now go to a school closer to home, attend an online university or go to a less expensive place.

Discover polled 1,000 parents of college-bound students in May.

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When Covid brought the economy to a standstill, one quarter of last year’s high-school graduates delayed their college plans, according to a separate survey from Junior Achievement and Citizens, largely because their parents or guardians were less able to provide financial support.

Even now, cost remains a top concern. Although about 40% of parents said their ability to help pay has improved since this time last year, 63% remain concerned about having enough money for higher education, Discover found.

College affordability and dealing with the debt burden that often goes hand-in-hand with a degree is parents and students’ top worry, The Princeton Review also found in its 2021 College Hopes & Worries survey.

Meanwhile, the price tag is only going up.

Average tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year increased by 1.1% to $10,560 for in-state students at four-year public colleges, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid. The data also showed tuition and fees at four-year private institutions rose by 2.1% to $37,650.

Most students must borrow to cover the cost, which has already propelled total student loan debt in the U.S. past $1.7 trillion.

Going forward, a 2021 high school graduate could take on as much as $38,147 in student loans, on average, according to a recent NerdWallet analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s up from $37,200 for 2020 high school grads. 

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