Economic concerns affect college choices, report says

More students rely on grants, loans

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (left, with President Obama) advocated for lower student loan rates in 2014.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan (left, with President Obama) advocated for lower student loan rates in 2014.

WASHINGTON — College costs are driving decisions about which schools to attend, what to study, and even where to live, according to a report from loan giant Sallie Mae.

Parents no longer foot the largest portion of the bill, according to the lender’s annual survey. That role goes to grants and scholarships, with student loans coming in third.

While the recession has largely passed, economic worries have not, and many families are making college choices driven by fears of tuition hikes and job losses, the survey shows.


‘‘Parents are willing to stretch themselves,’’ said Sarah Ducich, Sallie Mae’s senior vice president for public policy. ‘‘It’s not that they’re not willing to pay. It’s that their income is not keeping up.’’

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College spending per student was about $21,000 during 2012, down from a peak of $24,000 in 2010, according to the Sallie Mae-Ipsos Public Affairs report.

The annual survey of student financial aid found students earned about $6,300 in grants and scholarships to pay for college costs in 2012, taking the top spot from parents. Parents chipped in $5,727 on average, a decrease of 35 percent since 2010. Student loans were the third most common source to pick up the bill. The average student borrowed $8,815 in federal loans.

The rate for those loans was the subject of debate in the Senate last week, as lawmakers considered a compromise that would offer some students lower rates for the next few years but would prescribe higher rates for future classes. The Senate is expected to vote on that White House-backed compromise this week.

‘‘Rates on every single new college loan will come down this school year, offering relief to nearly 11 million borrowers,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.


Last year, the average family turned to grants and scholarships to cover 30 percent of college costs. Parents’ income and savings covered 27 percent of the bill, and student borrowing covered 18 percent.

Parents’ enthusiasm for college has not shriveled, though. The survey found 85 percent of parents saw college bills as an investment in their children’s future.

‘‘We’re in a new normal where big-ticket items like college, families will pay for them but won’t stress about them too much,’’ said Cliff Young, managing director at Ipsos.