By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Lots of families are making some major decisions right now about how to pay for college.

Four in 10 say they have created some sort of plan, but that means they are still crunching some big numbers.

So, how do we pay for college? Good Question.

According to SallieMae’s 2017 How We Pay for College report, 69 percent of students say they had to cross a college off the list because of cost.

That is hardly a surprise given the average reported cost of college last year: $23,757.

Students interviewed at the University of Minnesota on Thursday said they used a combination of parent savings, personal savings, jobs, loans and scholarships.

“It’s kind of what you have to do these days with tuition going up,” said one sophomore.

The SallieMae report gave an average of how a typical American family pays:

  • Scholarship/Grants: 35 Percent
  • Parent Income/Savings: 23 Percent
  • Student Borrowing: 19 Percent
  • Student Income/Savings: 11 Percent
  • Parent Borrowing: 8 Percent
  • Relatives/Friends: 4 Percent

“It depends on a lot,” said Bob McMaster, vice-provost and dean of undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota.

He said there are so many different configurations that depend on geography, family income and academic credentials.

About half of U.S. families use scholarships, and most of those come directly from the college. About 42 percent borrow and the most common way is through student federal loans. About 15 percent of parents borrow as well. Thirteen percent of families report using a 529 college savings account in 2017.

At Minnesota’s 17 private colleges, 90 percent of the students get grants or scholarships based on need or merit. According to John Manning of the Minnesota Private College Council, that reduces the cost of tuition and fees for average first-year students by 60 percent.

One trend seen by college watchers is the increase in grant money. According to Meredith Fergus, manager of financial aid research at Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education, state grants have increased to $200 million in 2017 from $140 million in 2009.

Federal Pell grants are also on the rise. Fergus also says students are also borrowing less by 1 percent to 2 percent per year, on average.

As for advice, McMaster says families should start planning early. He also recommends graduating in four years because people who do fifth or sixth years end up borrowing significantly more.


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