Ipsos and Sallie Mae Divide College Students and Their Parents into Four Personas – Which One Are You?

Posted By Terri Williams on October 29, 2015 at 2:36 pm
Ipsos and Sallie Mae Divide College Students and Their Parents into Four Personas – Which One Are You?

According to a recent report conducted by the Ipsos market research firm for Sallie Mae, How America Pays for College, most students – and their parents – fall into one of four categories when it comes to attending and paying for college: American Dreamers, Procrastinators, Determined, and Reluctant Borrowers. We took a look at the distribution among those four categories for both students and parents, as well as what the categories tell us about attitudes toward higher education and college costs:

Student Personas

The majority of students were either American Dreamers or Procrastinators, with a smaller percentage classified as Determined or Reluctant Borrowers.

Persona Percentage
American Dreamers 30%
Procrastinators 30%
Determined 22%
Reluctant Borrowers 18%


Parent Personas

While the majority of students were classified as either American Dreamers or Procrastinators, most parents were Determined, with a smaller percentage classified as Procrastinators, American Dreamers, or Reluctant Borrowers.

Persona Percentage
American Dreamers 23%
Procrastinators 24%
Determined 39%
Reluctant Borrowers 14%


We took a closer look at the survey to gain insight into the significance of each persona, and what they can tell us about current trends and attitudes among students and parents.

American Dreamers

American dreamers are tied for the top persona among students, but in third place among parents. This group believes that a college degree is an essential step in achieving the American dream, and they have the most optimistic and aspirational view of higher education. Other defining characteristics of the group include:

  • 100% of American Dreamer students say college is an investment in the future
  • 76% would attend college purely for the social and intellectual aspects of the experience
  • 76% are less likely to say that they are expected to attend college
  • 95% of American Dreamer parents would stretch financially to pay for their kid’s education


Procrastinators have a radically different higher education experience and set of expectations than American Dreamers. They are more likely to be concerned about the cost of going to college and less likely to feel pressure to attend. 90% of Procrastinators say college is not expected in their families. This group includes the highest percentage of students (59%) who would consider not attending college because of the cost.

Among the four personas, Procrastinator parents are least likely to borrow money to pay for college, and also least likely to stretch themselves financially. Procrastinator students are also most likely to attend college on a part-time basis.


A higher percentage of parents, but a much lower percentage of students, are likely to be Determined. This group places a high value on the significance of a college degree. They’re most likely to see it as an investment in the future, most likely to have a financial plan, most likely to stretch themselves financially for the sake of college, and least likely to respond that they might not attend college because of finances.

81% of Determined parents and 80% of Determined students responded that they had a plan to finance each year of higher education. 91% of parents and 93% of students would borrow money for college instead of not attending.

Reluctant Borrowers

Reluctant borrowers see college as a means to an end. As such, they are committed to doing what it takes, but they are not as sure about the benefits of the college “experience.”

97% of reluctant borrowers say college is an important financial investment. Among the four personas, this group has the highest percent of respondents who say that college attendance is expected in their families.

58% of reluctant borrowers say they would rather borrow than have their student not attend colelge. While 75% of Reluctant Borrower parents say they have created a plan to pay for college, the group has the largest number of students who are willing to stretch themselves financially to pay for their higher education aspirations.

The takeaway

Whether they believe in the inherent value of higher education or just see it as a means to an end, college students and their parents generally agree that a college degree is important. However, financial considerations are a deciding factor in many cases.

Hans Hanson of College Logic cautions against the assumption that student loans are the only financial option. Regardless of family income level, Hanson says that students may be able to qualify for some type of assistance, including a grant or work-study.

Financial issues are compounded for students considering graduate school. According to Dr. Luz Claudio, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Chief of the Division of International Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, “Financial considerations are extremely important, and students need to address these honestly and with as much information as possible before entering into a graduate program. If the student has a lot of debt from undergraduate programs, I advise them to work for a year or two to bring those student loans down.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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