The cost of college has risen rapidly over the past couple of decades. It’s no longer feasible for students to cover tuition costs by picking up part-time work or summer jobs. Today, students either need to rely on student loans or a college fund started by their parents.

To find how many parents are saving for college, in September, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,001 parents who currently have at least one child under the age of 18.

Key findings:

  • One-third of parents have used college savings for non-educational purposes, including for medical payments and gambling
  • 45% of parents haven’t started a college fund; 13% never plan to
  • Republican parents are twice as likely than Democratic parents to not be planning to save at all

33% of parents have used college savings for other purposes, including gambling

More than one-third (36%) of parents have withdrawn or used funds originally saved for their children’s college education for non education-related purposes.

Top uses included essential purchases (59%), medical expenses (57%), and mortgage or rent payments (45%).

However, these funds were also used to cover non-essential purchases (21%) and for gambling (11%).

Nearly half of parents haven’t started a college fund

Almost all (98%) of parents hope their children will go to college, but for various reasons many aren’t willing or able to help their children afford this dream.

Overall, 45% of parent’s haven’t started a college fund, and 13% never plan to. Twice as many Republicans than Democrats don’t plan to save at all.

Forty-eight percent of Republican parents haven’t started a college fund to date, but 70% do plan to start saving. On the other hand, 15% of Republicans are neither currently saving nor planning to save.

When it comes to Democratic parents, 33% of Democratic parents aren’t currently saving, but 79% plan to start. Only 7% are neither planning nor saving.

Overall, the median amount parents have saved is $10,000. Democratic parents have $12,000 saved and Republican parents $10,000.

‘I want them to pay for their own education’ tops reasons why

The reasons parents aren’t saving for college differ depending on their political affiliation.

For Republican parents, the top reason (selected by 45% of respondents) they aren’t going to save for college is they want their child to pay for their own education. Additional reasons include that it’s unlikely that their child will go to college (18%), someone else is saving or going to pay (11%), and the belief that if their child pays with student loans, those loans will be forgiven (9%).

For Democrats, the reasons look a little bit different. The plurality (30%) believe government student loans will just be forgiven, 26% say someone else is saving or paying, and 19% say it’s unlikely their child will go to college. Only 11% want their child to pay for their own education.

Write-in answers from members of both parties also made it clear that many are struggling financially, and saving for college is simply not an option. Respondents wrote in responses including:

  • “Economy is bad at the moment, and I don’t see it changing.”
  • “Barely making it week to week. Inflation is crippling our economy.”
  • “I don’t have enough money to save and pay for living expenses.”
  • “I live on a very low income.”

1 in 20 parents have stopped contributing to college savings.

Some parents (4%) have stopped contributing to their children’s college savings.

Half say this is because they are no longer in a financial position to do so. One respondent noted, “With inflation I have to stop saving altogether.”

Additionally, 30% say they have enough saved, and 10% say their child no longer wants to go to college.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,001 Americans with at least one child under the age of 18 were surveyed.

Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s demographic tools and a screening question.

This survey was conducted on September 28, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email [email protected]