Google Searches for “529 Plans”, “College Scholarships” Decline as Student Debt Levels Reach Highest Point Ever

It’s no secret that student debt is a huge problem for today’s graduates. According to the most recent numbers, the U.S. holds $1.23 trillion in total student loan debt, spread out over 43.3 million borrowers. The average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student debt, up 6% from 2015. What’s more? Student loans have a delinquency rate of 11.6%.

No one likes student debt, and the long-lasting negative effects – from delayed homeownership to lower retirement savings – are well-documented. However, Google Trends data shows that search volume for student debt prevention has declined over the past 10 years. Over the same 10 year span, average student debt has increased 96% to over $37,000. That means, even as student loan debt is on the rise, fewer people are searching for ways to prevent it in the first place.

Are new college students, and their parents, unaware of what they’re getting themselves into with student loans?

While Google searches for “college scholarships” and “college grants” increased slightly between 2008 and 2009, they have steadily declined since then, hitting points lower in May 2016 than they were in May 2006. All the while, average student loan debt has increased from $18,976 in 2006 to $37,172 in 2016 – a 96% increase.

Low search volume, low utilization

If searches for these resources for college funding are declining, does that mean actual use of the resources is low, too? In some cases, yes.

In 2012, just 3% of Americans were using a 529 plan to save for college, according to a study from the Government Accountability Office. Though those numbers have grown since then – according to CNBC, the total number of 529 plan accounts reached 12.33 million in June 2014, a 4% increase from the previous year – many people still don’t use or understand them. Two-thirds of Americans didn’t know what a 529 plan was in 2015, according to an Edward Jones survey.

As for scholarships and grants? It’s been reported that college students left $2.9 billion in unused federal grant money on the table in 2015 – just by neglecting to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The impact

As outlined in a recent GoodCall report, even average student debt can have a significant financial impact on college graduates, costing them 5 extra years to home ownership, $500,000 in lost retirement savings or up to half of their future child’s college savings. With interest in student debt prevention declining, are we getting even farther away from a solution?

Carrie Wiley

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Carrie is graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She has a degree in English and Journalism with a concentration in Professional Writing. She served as news editor of The Seahawk campus newspaper. Since college, Carrie has worked in various digital marketing roles focusing mostly on media relations. Her writing has been featured in Yahoo! Homes and AOL Real Estate. In addition to being GoodCall's Public Relations and Communications expert, Carrie is also a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering higher education trends and career news.

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