Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2007—New research shows that while nine out of 10 parents expect to watch their child walk across a stage to receive a college degree, many moms and dads aren’t doing all they can to make that dream a reality. In fact, nearly half of all parents of middle schoolers have not started planning for college and nearly two-thirds have not started saving. As families prepare for their holidays, two leading education groups are urging them to give the gift of education.
According to a major new report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) with financial support by The Sallie Mae Fund, parents of adolescent students are in a unique position to help ensure their children’s success in college. The first-of-its-kind report, From Aspirations to Action: The Role of Middle School Parents in Making the Dream of College a Reality (available at www.ihep.com), provides an inside look into the world of middle school and how it is a crucial stage in which parents must make important decisions about their child’s pathway to higher education.
Highlights of the national survey of 1,800 parents of sixth through eighth graders include:
- Two-thirds of parents had not started saving, and about a quarter had not taken any financial steps to prepare for college. Of all parents, 37 percent reported saving money and 30 percent reported cutting back on spending.
- Overall, 38 percent of parents believed that they have the primary responsibility for paying for college, while 43 percent believed that responsibility was shared with their child.
- Most parents were aware of financial aid in a general sense, but 11 percent could not name any type of aid. Parents who are disadvantaged were least likely to know about aid.
- Nearly nine out of 10 (87 percent) parents expected their child to go to college; less than 1 percent did not.
- Most parents (75 percent) said that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in today’s world.
- Parents with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to expect their child to attend college, while those who did not graduate from high school were less likely to have this expectation and more likely to say that college enrollment would be the child’s decision.
College Knowledge and Planning
- More than 45 percent of parents did not report taking any of the college planning actions asked in the survey. This percentage was even higher for parents who had never attended college.
- More than a third of parents reported having no sources of information on college preparation or admission.
- Less than 20 percent of parents reported taking steps such as researching colleges, meeting with teachers or counselors, and looking into the college admissions process—all critical parts of the college enrollment process.
- Parents were fairly realistic about when their child should start taking classes to prepare for college, with 66 percent saying in the ninth grade and only about 2 percent saying that classes should start later.
- More than 80 percent of all parents felt that they knew what classes their child needed to take, but the survey did not test whether parents’ knowledge was accurate in terms of course requirements.
- In addition, parents with lower levels of education were less confident about what classes their children should take.
“Clearly, there is a need for students and parents to know much earlier about the college process in order to make sound decisions later on. Middle school is a critical turning point—this is the time when a child’s educational future becomes in question,” says IHEP Founding President Jamie P. Merisotis. “The more that can be done at this stage to ensure students and families have information about educational options, the more able they will be to lay the necessary groundwork for their future college opportunities.”
Call to Action
Working toward greater involvement by parents in early college planning will require a comprehensive approach that combines outreach efforts, curricular changes, increased program support, and other activities. To help middle schoolers and their parents better prepare for college, the report recommends participation at all levels, including students and families, high schools, colleges, state and local governments, the federal government, and the private sector.
The report’s recommendations to help middle school students and their parents attain the dream of a college education include:
- Parents must begin to plan financially for college at an early stage. They need to understand their financial choices and the potential future benefits. Parents of elementary and middle school students should know the details of what it costs to attend area colleges. Financial institutions, schools, and other organizations should let parents know more about financial aid programs.
- Schools and counselors must reach out to parents and students to explain which courses are necessary for college and why it is important to plan for college in other ways. Information about college options should be a standard part of any life skills curriculum taught in middle and high school, and schools should offer college-planning workshops to parents well before students begin the application process.
- Congress should support the Success in the Middle Act of 2007 (H.R. 3406), recently introduced to offer federal support to improve the education of middle school students in low-performing schools. The act would authorize $1 billion a year for formula grants to states to provide grants to local school districts. One of the act’s mandates for sub-grant recipients would be to inform students about high school graduation and college admissions requirements.
”Whether your child is in middle school, in high school, or preschool, it’s never too early or too late to start preparing for college—financially and otherwise,” said Kathleen deLaski, president of The Sallie Mae Fund. “Even if your child is entering high school, by putting aside $100 a month, you could save enough for the first year tuition at many public universities.”
In response to the research, The Sallie Mae Fund will expand its middle school program, Kids to College, which has served 41,000 students, mostly from low-income families, in nine states over the last 15 years. The program pairs sixth graders with area colleges and universities for a curriculum designed to help the school children set their sights on college, and culminates with a tour of a college campus. The Fund plans to create more partnerships to offer the program in more states next year and will also work with districts to make this curriculum available, at no cost to their schools.
In addition, IHEP is also committed to creating change in postsecondary education as it believes that early awareness and preparedness are necessary in order to help young students reach their full potential. In early 2006, IHEP became the parent organization of the Washington, D.C.-based Partners4Education to target local sixth grade students and families from historically underrepresented communities.