As the price of college continues to swell, more and more Americans are finding ways to cut costs.
During 2012, students and families spent an average of $21,178 on college costs—a noticeable decline compared to 2010’s spending peak of $24,097, according to a new Sallie Mae survey.
However, this doesn’t mean tuition bills have gotten altogether lighter. Rather, what the research suggests is that Americans are taking an overall thriftier approach to higher education and being more discretionary about what’s necessary for a college education—and what isn’t.
Finding New Ways to Save
“Price has become a major part of the conversation, and tough choices are being made,” Sarah Ducich, the senior vice president for public policy at Sallie Mae, told Reuters.
The survey also revealed that students are saving money by choosing to live at home or with relatives, instead of shelling out for room and board, with almost 57% reporting that they did so—a figure that was up from just 44% in 2011.
Furthermore, some students (one-fifth of those surveyed) seem to be taking into account the eventual return on their college investment, and have switched their majors to areas that would be more marketable after graduation.
Higher Education at a Lower Cost
Families are also getting smarter about seeking out generous grants and scholarships while in school. The percentage of tuition that is paid by grants and scholarships has risen to 30%, a jump from just 23% during the 2009-2010 school year.
Overall, students and their parents are turning their backs on pricey institutions. In 2013, more than half of American families said that they eliminated a college option because of its price tag. Plus, they made their decision to nix an expensive school before even sending in an application or evaluating what financial aid package they might have been offered. Which might not have been the wisest move because a university’s list price rarely reflects the true out-of-pocket costs for most middle- and lower-income families.
But even if families are choosing to cut back on costs, it doesn’t mean they value higher education any less. In fact, when asked if college is a smart investment for the future, 85% of respondents said yes—and that’s up from just 77% last year.