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Students, Parents Bet That College Will Pay Off With a Job, Study Finds

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Students, Parents Bet That College Will Pay Off With a Job, Study Finds

Both students and parents have high expectations for students’ first jobs after college graduation, which reflects higher levels of employment overall and a desire to maximize the investment of a college education, according to a new survey.

Five hundred college-bound high school students and 500 parents of high school-age children across the country responded to a Google Consumer Survey distributed on behalf of Upromise by Sallie Mae, a cash-back membership program that lets parents save for college through online shopping.

Overall, 64% of parents and 68% of students said they expected students to get a job in their chosen field within six months of graduation. The highest proportion of parents, 23%, expected their children to have a job even before they graduated. The highest proportion of students, 27%, said they believed it would take slightly longer — one or two months after graduation — to land a job in their industry.

Those high expectations reflect the huge amount of time and resources families put into their children’s college educations, says Rob Liddell, director of career planning at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida.

“Parents definitely look at the return on investment,” he says. “ ‘What am I buying with all the tens or hundreds of thousands I’m investing in my child?’ ”

A challenging market

The job market hasn’t made the job hunt much easier for new grads. The overall U.S. unemployment rate in April was 5.4%, down from 6.2% in April 2014 and the lowest it’s been since May 2008, before the recession. But unemployment among men and women aged 20 to 24 was much higher than the national average, at 9.6% in April. Those 25 years old and over had better luck, with an unemployment rate of 4.5%.

To offset the amount of time it takes to find a full-time job, more parents surveyed said they were willing to help their children financially once they graduated. In this year’s survey, 36% of parents said they anticipated supporting their children financially for two years after graduation, double the number who expected to do so last year.

But students shouldn’t plan to rely on others’ generosity, Liddell says. “I’d rather encourage our students to aim at financial independence after graduation and only in the rarest occasions request support,” he says.

To meet the high expectations high school students in the survey have set for themselves, it’s essential for them to start their job search before the final weeks of their senior year, says Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.

“Sometimes I think seniors wait to pull the trigger on their job search a little bit late,” he says. “The first day of their senior year, their main job is to find a job.”

Make a plan for saving

The cost of college also weighs heavily on students and parents’ minds, according to the survey. High school students and their parents both regretted not focusing more on college savings. Just over half of parents with high school-age children and 48% of high school students said they wished they had started saving for college sooner. A fifth of students surveyed hadn’t started saving for college at all, while 12% of parents hadn’t.

Like job searching, saving for college is all about starting early, says Chad Nehring, a financial advisor at Conceptual Financial Planning, Inc. in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“Define who’s going to do what,” he says. “That’s going to determine who’s going to have to be the saver.”

If a family determines parents will take on the majority of the financial burden, starting a 529 plan is a good option, Nehring says. These savings accounts, named for the section of the IRS tax code that deals with tax advantages for education savings, are meant specifically for college. Each state has its own plan or plans; parents can shop around and pick the one they like best, no matter where they live.

“529 plans are good because they have that restriction of being used for higher education,” Nehring says. That ensures the funds won’t be used in other ways if, for instance, the person who opened it dies. In some cases, the education-only restriction can also be a disadvantage, like when a student decides to join the military, gets a full scholarship or goes to a school that costs less than the amount saved in the account, Nehring says.

Not surprisingly, both students and parents said their biggest source of stress around high school students going away to college was the cost. Just under half of parents and students surveyed said cost was their biggest stressor around college, while the next-largest stressor, not performing well academically, was cited by just 17% of parents and 24% of students.

There was also a marked difference in responses between male and female students. Roughly half, or 51%, of women and 41% of men said college costs stressed them out most, while 29% of men said not doing well academically was their biggest worry, compared to only 17% of women.

The responses show the importance of saving so students and parents can focus on making the most of college, says Erin Condon, president of Upromise by Sallie Mae.

“We would all like families and students to be able to focus on getting good grades and not partying too much,” she says. “And those things came in much lower in the survey.”

Image via iStock.