Students are paying for college more.

Students Pay Increasing Share of College Costs

Parents still contribute a lot, but a new study shows students are finding ways to make ends meet.

Students are paying for college more.

Many students agree that borrowing is a better option than forgoing college.

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More than 6 in 10 students surveyed strongly agree that taking out loans is a better option than skipping college, according to a new study released by financial services firm Sallie Mae—and many are doing so. 

For the 2011-2012 school year, 34 percent of 18 to 24 year old students surveyed took out federal loans, a 4 percent increase from the year before, and a 9 percent increase from 2008-2009. Ten percent of students took a private loan, up 1 percent from 2010-2011—making loans one way students are paying for a greater portion of their college education. 

[Read about student loan changes for 2012.] 

"The number of students willing to stretch themselves financially to pay for college is at its highest level in five years," notes the study, How America Pays for College 2012, which surveyed 801 students and 800 parents in the spring of 2012. "...[S]tudents financed more of the cost of their education than in any previous year, contributing 30 percent of the cost from their own income, savings, and borrowing, up from roughly one-fourth over the last three years." 

Through a combination of student and parent savings and loans, contributions from friends and relatives, and grants and scholarships, the average family spent $20,902 for the 2011-2012 school year, the study says. 

Parents still shouldered the brunt of college costs, accounting for 37 percent of the total spent, on average, between loans, income, and savings. But student borrowing was at its highest rate in four years, adding up to 18 percent of the total spent, up from 14 percent in the 2008-2009 school year. The average federal student loan taken among students surveyed was $7,874 for 2011-2012; average private student loan borrowing totaled $8,096. 

[See why a student loan burden of about $20,000 can be manageable.] 

Students' income and savings also covered a greater percent of the total cost than in the previous three years: 12 percent in 2011-2012, up from a low of 9 percent in 2009-2010. On average, students paid $2,555 of their own savings and income during the 2011-2012 school year. 

Students may be spending more to make up for a decrease in school aid. Grants and scholarships still accounted for 29 percent of the average money spent for the 2011-2012 school year, but that's a 4 percent decrease from the year before. According to the study, the majority of that decrease likely comes from fewer college scholarships. 

Students are also adapting by cutting costs and finding other funds, according to the study. Slightly more than half of the college students surveyed lived at home for the 2011-2012 school year, they reported, and half say they are working extra hours at side jobs. 

Some of the steps taken to pay for college may have been last-minute decisions. According to the study, only 39 percent of families had a financial plan to cover the full cost of college before their students enrolled. 

"Families with a plan to pay for college are less likely to borrow," the study notes.

And many, but not all, families completed the FAFSA, the first step toward securing federal financial aid. For the 2011-2012 school year, 81 percent reported completing the federal form. 

[Learn more about the importance of filing the FAFSA.] 

These paying for college findings are only some of myriad data released in the Sallie Mae study, conducted by market research firm Ipsos Public Affairs. How America Pays for College, now in its fifth year, is released annually.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.