Pittsburgh — With college costs shooting through the roof and many parents unprepared for the burden of paying for it, high school students across the country are being forced to make choices about where they will attend college and how to cut costs once they get there.
One of the most significant findings in a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation is that for the first time this year a majority of high school students — 53 percent — plan to eliminate the dormitory expense altogether and live at home.
“We are encouraged that high school students are planning ahead and thinking deliberately about their futures. They may be living at home during college, but that may help them achieve more financial independence later,” said Mary Morris, chairman of the College Savings Foundation and CEO of Virginia 529 in Richmond, Va.
The 2016 survey of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors found that college costs are looming large in their minds, which has prompted many of them to seek more affordable educational choices.
More than half (54 percent) are choosing public college, up from 50 percent last year; and 20 percent are opting for community college. Nearly half (49 percent) now think of vocational and career schools in the same way that they think about public or private college, up from 42 percent last year and 21 percent in 2014.
According to the College Board, a New York-based nonprofit that develops and administers standardized tests, the average cost of room and board at a four-year public college for in-state students for the 2015-16 school year was $10,138, while tuition and fees costs are slightly lower at $9,410. Room and board costs for out-of-state students at four-year public colleges also cost an average $10,138; however, tuition and fees costs are more than double — $23,893.
“Students and parents, in general, are becoming more price sensitive and also more concerned about the return on their college investment,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com, a Chicago-based website that connects students with colleges and financial aid. “In a way, it’s better for the child to live at home while going to school than be forced to live at home after they graduate.
“The benefit of living in a dorm is you learn as much from your peers as you do sitting in classrooms listening to lectures,” he said.
“The concern is that students who don’t live on campus may be missing out on part of the educational experience,” Kantrowitz said. “There’s also the social aspect. But it’s much easier to justify the dorm expense when there’s educational value and not just social and entertainment value.”
Financial adviser Adam Yofan, president of Alpern Wealth Management in Pittsburgh, said he understands why students want to cut costs any way they can. Yet there is a trade-off when it comes to eliminating the dormitory expense.
“You sacrifice the social aspect of the college experience, which may actually include networking opportunities that could help you secure a job in the future,” Yofan said. “One of my longest tenured clients is someone I met my first week of college in the dormitory at Miami University in Ohio.
“You can’t just try to save costs,” he said. “There might be long-term benefits — social and professional — by living in the dorm.”