A Sallie Mae survey shows that most American families think a college degree is still worthwhile, but having a plan to pay for it is another story.

Most families believe getting a college education is important and are committed to finding a way to pay for it. This was the overwhelming conclusion from a recent study conducted by Sallie Mae and Ipsos, an independent market research company.

How America Values College” is the continuation of “How America Pays for College,” a study conducted by Sallie Mae since 2008. In the second part of the study, Ipsos conducted online interviews with over 1,900 college students from the ages of 18-24 and their parents. 

The study results show that 90 percent of families believe that college is a worthwhile investment. Eighty-five percent of families expected the student would attend college, regardless of their field of study. And 77 percent agree that attending college is an important first step in achieving the American Dream.

Fifty-two percent of students said they would attend college for the experience alone, even if it didn’t improve their earning potential. However, 83 percent of families believe that college graduates earn more money in the long run. And 77 percent feel that a college degree is even more important today than it was in the past.

But despite these beliefs about college, 40 percent of families don’t have a plan for how they will pay for it. This includes things like saving or researching expected college expenses. And families who don’t plan for college often end up being caught off-guard by the costs. They were surprised by the cost of living expenses, rising tuition costs, and non-academic expenses.

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The cost was a deciding factor in how most families made their final college choice. Seventy-nine percent of respondents ruled out schools they deemed to be too expensive and 53 percent ruled out colleges based on the perception that they were too expensive.

But ultimately, most families made their final college selection based on the strength of the academic program. As such, 58 percent looked for an academic program that was related to the student’s major. Meanwhile, 33 percent looked at the career success rates of graduates from that program.

When it came to paying for college, the majority of students and parents are committed to finding a way to make it work. Seventy-eight percent of students work during at least part of the year and 45 percent work year-round. Meanwhile, 32 percent of parents increased their own working hours to help pay for school.

Students looked for other ways to cut costs like minimizing the amount of time it takes to finish their degree and taking online classes. However, families with a plan for how to pay for school are more likely to take these steps than those without a plan.

Julia Clark, the senior vice president of Ipsos, said in a press release she found the study encouraging because it shows that families are making better decisions about how to pay for college. Raymond J. Quinlan, the CEO of Sallie Mae, agreed but added that “there is work to do to equip more families with tools and information to create a plan to pay for college.”