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Parents are increasingly likely to say that their children should bear all or most of the responsibility for paying for college, but nearly eight in 10 say they still expect to help out with those expenses.

That’s according to the latest version of an annual survey of adults with children 16-18 years old who are planning on going to college commissioned by Discover Student Loans.

The survey, conducted by Rasmussen Reports from March 30-April 3, found that 48 percent of parents think their children should bear all or most of the responsibility for paying for college, up from 39 percent in 2012, the first year the survey was conducted. Most expect that their children will have to take out student loans.

Parents are bombarded by media reports about rising college tuition and fees and difficulties many student loan borrowers have had trouble repaying their loans.

Some may have read horror stories like the plight of Robert E. Murphy, who says he’ll never pay back more than $246,000 in student loans he took out to fund his children’s educations. Not only have colleges hiked fees as federal loan limits increased over the last decade, but many states cut funding for higher education drastically during the recession.

While the cost of higher education is still a real concern, some parents may not realize that:

If more parents are hoping their children will be able to pay for their educations themselves, it’s clear that they understand that’s not always realistic.

The Discover Student Loan survey found that more than three out of four families expect to help pay for their children’s college — a proportion that’s stayed fairly constant since 2012.

Only about one in five families said they’ll be able to foot more than half of the bill for their child’s education, and most (55 percent) said they expected their child would have to rely on student loans for funding, up from 50 percent in 2013.

If their children do take out loans, 61 percent of parents said it’s likely they’ll help their children pay them back, up from 55 percent in 2012.

The survey also addresses some smart approaches families can take to reduce the cost of obtaining a degree — including completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and attending a community college or public university.

While only 44 percent of parents said they’d completed the FAFSA, it’s not unusual for college-bound students to complete the application themselves — 8 percent of parents said they were unsure if their family had taken this vital step to securing grants, scholarships and financial aid for college.

The FAFSA completion rate would be in line with Department of Education statistics, which historically have shown the official FAFSA completion rate to rise above 50 percent by December. Families can technically file a FAFSA for the 2016-2017 award year until June 30, 2017, although states and colleges usually have earlier deadlines for applying for financial aid.

FAFSA completion can vary widely by state — student advocates say increasing funding for high school counseling could improve FAFSA completion rates.

The Department of Education has tried to streamline the FAFSA form, and next fall college-bound students will be able to fill out the FAFSA in October, rather than having to wait until January. Students will also be able to use their family’s 2015 tax return, meaning they won’t have to wait for their parents to file their 2016 taxes.

It’s important that every student fill out the FAFSA — it’s the only way to find out what aid they qualify for, and get an idea of what the actual cost of attending college will be. In many cases, attending college may be more affordable than students and their parents realize.

In announcing the changes to FAFSA deadlines, the Obama administration estimated that 2 million students who are now enrolled in college might have been eligible to receive a Pell Grant but never applied for aid, and that “an unknown number failed to enroll in college because they did not know that aid is available.”

After their children have exhausted any grants, scholarships and state and federal financial aid and loans they may qualify for, private lenders can help cover any funding gaps.

When parents agree to cosign a private student loan for their children, they help them obtain a lower rate that can make it easier for them to repay their debt. Many private lenders now offer loans for parents that are competitive with federal parent PLUS loans. Federal parent PLUS loans carry a 4.272 percent up-front disbursement fee that private lenders typically waive.

Credible is a multi-lender marketplace that allows borrowers to request competitive loan offers from vetted lenders, without affecting their credit scores.

About the author
Matt Carter
Matt Carter

Matt Carter is a Credible expert on student loans. Analysis pieces he’s contributed to have been featured by CNBC, CNN Money, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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