While parents are planning to pay for 57% of their children’s college costs, less than a third are on track to meet that goal, Fidelity Investments’ sixth annual College Savings Indicator, released Wednesday, found.
More than three-quarters of parents say they don’t want their children to have a large school debt burden, but Fidelity found the average size of a student’s loan debt is $25,250.
“With college costs increasing an average of 5% every year, saving enough for a child’s education will continue to be a challenge for many families,” Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments, said in a statement. “More than ever, it’s critically important for families to review their college goals and savings strategies early and make adjustments to avoid burdens brought on by large amounts of post-graduation debt.”
There’s no doubt college planning has become more complex. Among the issues parents need to consider are the total cost of college expenses, the likely sizable debt their children could graduate with, the impact of their choice of school and how their children’s major will affect their job prospects and earning potential, according to Fidelity. However, just 31% of parents are considering these myriad concerns, the study found.
Of those parents considering the above-mentioned issues, 61% have made changes to their plan for managing post-graduation debt. Over a third of families are considering less expensive schools and 28% will rely more on financial aid. Sixteen percent will ask their children to switch majors in hopes of a larger salary later.
The most commonly recommended majors are computer science, nursing, engineering, psychology, biology and accounting. Parents who are pushing their children toward a certain major believe their kids will earn an average $70,300 after graduation. However, Fidelity found parents are likely far too optimistic, as industry reports show the average starting salary for the class of 2012 will be $44,442.
Over three-quarters of parents think their children will find a job within six months of graduating, Fidelity found, and 23% think they’ll get a job before they leave school. With unemployment for 20- to 24-year-olds at 13.5% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those hopes may be overly optimistic as well.
There is some good news in Fidelity’s report. Parents are more familiar with 529 plans than they were three years ago and more than a third have increased their contributions to these plans. A third of parents are working with an advisor on planning for college and are focusing on school selection, financial aid, getting grants, and how to divide college costs between parents and children. That guidance is paying off: 68% of parents working with an advisor say they are closer to getting to their goal than they would be on their own.
“Financial advisors can play an important role in helping parents and children have critical conversations about college decision making and postgraduate plans—including aligning college selection, savings strategies and plans to pay down any postgraduate debt,” Matt Golden, vice president of college savings for Fidelity Financial Advisors Solutions, said in a statement. “Engaging college-bound children in these conversations—along with their parents—also serves as a first opportunity to build relationships with the next generation of clients.”