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More Americans Are Returning to Pre-Pandemic College Plans, but Money Worries Remain

August 24, 2021

Nearly a year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted college plans of millions of American students, most U.S. families say they have returned to their pre-pandemic college plans, according to a new survey from Discover Student Loans.

But financing those plans will still be a challenge for many families grappling with the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The Discover Student Loans Parents Survey 2021, conducted in May and released last month, found that 63% of the 1,000 parents polled said college plans for their children are back to where they were before the pandemic. Forty percent said their ability to help pay for college has improved since May 2020, when lockdowns and other measures sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin that resulted in millions of lost jobs and business closures.

Of the parents who are worried about paying for college, only 19% said they lost money this year because of the pandemic. That’s down from 30% who said they lost money in 2020.

There’s little doubt that COVID-19 has had less impact on the college plans of current high school students than those who graduated in 2020.

According to the 2021 JA Teens & Personal Finance Survey — an online poll of 2,000 U.S. teens conducted earlier this year by Wakefield Research on behalf of Junior Achievement USA and Citizens Bank — about one-quarter of 2020 high school graduates delayed their plans to attend college due to COVID-19. In contrast, only 12% of current-year high school juniors and seniors plan to delay college because of COVID-19.

Although these surveys suggest that college plans for most American families are edging back toward normal, there’s still plenty of worry among both parents and students about how they will finance those plans. That’s partly because college costs continue to rise even as families recover from the pandemic.