Parents & Students Need More Help Planning for College Expenses

Anyone considering attending college or sending someone to college, be prepared. There’s a lot more to the cost of a college education than just tuition, fees, room and board. A recent survey conducted by Key Education Resources, the education financing arm of KeyCorp, found that 69 percent of students living away from home and 66 percent of parents are surprised by the costs of ancillary expenses.

The most shocking expense? Textbook prices. Thirty percent of students and 25 percent of parents reported having no idea how expensive textbooks would be. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) reports that the average cost of books and supplies for the 2004-2005 academic year ranged between $770 and $870, depending on the type of institution attended and courses studied.


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“We found a real generation gap when it comes to estimating the true cost of college,” said Rick Vonk, president of key Education Resources, in a statement announcing the survey results. “For example, 74 percent of parents say they and their kids agree on the amount of spending money the student should have, whereas only 43 [percent] of students say they’re in agreement with their parents.”

The differences don’t stop there. When it comes to estimating the additional money needed to live on campus, one-in-four parents say it costs $3,000 or more annually, compared to only one-in-six students who thought it cost that much. In fact, twice as many students as parents said living on campus costs $1,000 or less each year.

Both parents and students share the sticker-shock when it comes to college education, indicating both could use more help when it comes to planning for college expenses, particularly the expense of living on campus. Key Education Resources offers the following planning tips:

  • Be comprehensive. Make sure your list of incidentals includes items such as food, clothing; the price of gas or air fare (if the student plans to visit home); cell phone; computer software; parking fees (if the student has a vehicle); fees to join clubs, sororities, fraternities or other organizations; and even funds for laundry machines and nights out with friends.

  • Make use on free online reference tools. Some lenders, including Key Education Resources, provide calculators and worksheets online to help families plan for college expenses.

  • Talk to someone who’s “been there, done that.” Talk to friends, relatives and neighbors who are either going to college, have students attending college or recent graduates. They may be able to shed some light on the truth about college expenses.

  • Apply for scholarships and grants through the institution’s financial aid office and independently. There are a lot of scholarships and grants out there. The financial aid office can help expedite the application process, but don’t stop there. Not all scholarships and grants get national attention or make it into the databases used by financial aid offices. This is especially true of smaller, privately funded scholarship and grants, so don’t rely on the financial aid office alone. Some even help cover ancillary expenses. Even if they only provide tuition relief, they free up funds that can then be used for on-campus spending.

  • Ask about interest-free payment plans that can spread the costs out in regular installments over the year.

With the escalating costs of a college education, some may wonder if it is really worth it. It is, to nearly half (49 percent) of parents but only 32 percent of students. On the other hand, 43 percent of students say the cost is worth it if they land a good paying job, compared to only 38 percent of parents.

The survey was conducted during March 2006 by Zogby International, an independent polling and public opinion research firm. Parents of college students living away from home and college students were randomly interviewed online and by phone.


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