New Survey Shows Parents Are Split on How to Control College Costs

Posted By Terri Williams on November 27, 2015 at 1:45 pm
New Survey Shows Parents Are Split on How to Control College Costs

The cost of college continues to spiral out of control. According to a recent report by the College Board, tuition and fees are 40% higher for 2015-2016 students at public universities than they were a decade ago for 2005-2006 students. Costs are 25% higher for private, non-profit schools.  In response, the federal government, state governments, and many politicians and business people have proposed various solutions.

Most parents of college students also agree that something needs to be done to control college costs. But that’s about all that they can agree on, according to a recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep and MONEY Magazine. The survey reveals that parents have mixed opinions on the following five suggestions:

Approve Oppose Undecided
Ending financial aid in exchange for 2 years of free tuition 45% 29% 26%
Living at home while taking freshmen courses online for free 44% 32% 24%
Raising taxes to cover higher education costs 38% 40% 22%
Charging higher tuition rates to higher income levels 31% 44% 25%
Utilizing shared income agreements 23% 50% 27%


But what, exactly, does this all mean? GoodCall went straight to the source and spoke with Michael Boothroyd, Kaplan Test Prep’s Executive Director of College Admissions Programs, and asked him to analyze the responses for each of the five suggestions.

Ending federal aid in exchange for 2 years of free tuition

On January 9, 2015, the White House unveiled the America’s College Promise proposal, which would allow students to take two years of community college for free.

The State of Tennessee has already implemented Tennessee Promise, which pays for the first two years of community or technical college. However, the majority of that state’s community college students also have a federal Pell Grant that pays for most of the tuition cost, and Tennessee Promise pays the remaining balance. Oregon plans to roll out a similar plan in 2016.

Boothroyd says this prospective policy fix has the most support of any of the proposals they presented to parents. “That may be because it’s the most simple. Figuring out FAFSA – though it’s actually been streamlined – and how to figure out the tax code to work to their advantage isn’t something that most parents look forward to.”

Living at home while taking free online courses

In January 2015, New York philanthropist Steven B. Klinsky, who founded the nonprofit Modern States Education Alliance, announced a $1 million donation to MIT and Harvard for students to take their first year of college courses online. The program, called Freshmen For Free, allows anyone to take free online courses from elite schools – such as MIT and Harvard. While massive, open online courses (MOOCs) already exist, Klinsky’s program would include 30 specific college freshman-level courses that count for credit toward a degree.

Boothroyd says this is another proposal that many parents support since it seems straightforward and reasonable. “A year of free tuition, which could run upwards of $40,000, to live at home and take online courses.” (Interestingly, a recent GoodCall article examined the reasons why fewer students choose to live at home.)

And Boothroyd says online learning has become an accepted and growing trend. “Students are increasingly accustomed to online learning options; in fact, we at Kaplan Test Prep have seen incredible growth in our online course offerings over the past few years.”

Raising taxes to generate higher education income

Another proposal that has been floated around is the idea of raising state taxes to help pay for higher education. However, Boothroyd says, “Lower tuition sounds like a great idea for many parents, but not if the money to fund this proposal may come from their tax dollars. Notably, more parents oppose than support this idea.”

Charging income-based tuition

Some critics of the current state of higher education complain that the amount of tuition paid by lower-income families is rising faster than the amount paid by their upper-income counterparts.

“For this kind of proposal, the devil is in the details,” says Boothroyd. “What the government might consider ‘higher earning’ is anybody’s guess, and many families don’t want to be penalized for making just a little more money than their neighbor.”

Shared income agreements

In June 2015, New Jersey Governor and Presidential candidate Chris Christie proposed shared income agreements that allow investors to pay a part of a student’s tuition, and after graduation, the student would pay a percentage of their income to the investor. Two months before Christie’s announcement, two more proponents, Presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida, and Wisconsin Congressman Tom Petri, introduced Income Share Agreement bills in the House and Senate.

According to Boothroyd, there’s a reason why this was the least popular of the policy ideas they proposed to parents. “It could be because they don’t want their kids to be seen or treated as objects of investment by strangers. Their kids are people, not moneymakers for others” says Boothroyd. “If anybody is going to invest in their children, their futures, they want it to be them.” 

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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