83% of Americans Say They Can’t Afford College: Edward Jones Poll

Plus, 66% cannot identify 529 plans, the annual survey finds

Investors need help with college savings. Investors need help with college savings.

College costs continue to rise, and an Edward Jones survey finds that 83% of Americans say they cannot afford the expense of a college education.

It’s the fourth year that Edward Jones has surveyed Americans about college savings. And this year’s poll also finds that just 34% can identify 529 plans, down from 37% in 2012, but up from 30% in 2014.

The survey results, released early Wednesday, show that only 17% of Americans overall believe they can cover the expense of college for themselves or a family member. Male respondents are nearly twice as likely to indicate "yes" than their female counterparts, 21% vs. 11%.

Among those with higher incomes, $100,000 a year or more per household, only 37% say they can afford the cost.

Those in this group, 58%, are more likely to correctly identify 529 plans as college-savings tools from among four potential options, according to Edward Jones. Yet just 35% of respondents with children ages 13-17 could correctly identify these plans. (Congress recently updated some 529 plan rules.)

"Despite headlines focused on the increasingly high costs of college, we still see a significant number of Americans who aren’t aware of one of the most important long-term savings vehicles that can help minimize the impact that the cost of education has on families,” said Steve Seifert, principal at Edward Jones, in a statement.

"Demographically, people are living longer and having children later in life, narrowing the time between a child’s college bills and his or her parents’ retirement age. This, coupled with the fact that the cost of college is increasing at a much higher rate than inflation, means that many are grappling with how to stay on track to meet savings goals,” Seifert said.

Edward Jones branches nationwide, which include about 13,000 financial advisors, will recognize May 29 as Save for Education Day by hosting community events to remind families about the importance of setting education-savings goals.

"While the cost continues to be a major concern, Americans still recognize the value of a college education – so finding ways to manage those costs becomes paramount in the process," added Seifert. "We need to remind them of the wide array of strategies that exist and help them put their goals into action through designing a plan that utilizes the appropriate tools in support of their savings goals."

--- Check out 30 Best Paying College Majors: 2015 on ThinkAdvisor.

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