Study: Budgeting Not Parents' Strong Suit

    American parents are not meeting the challenge of saving enough for their children’s college funds, according to a new report by investment firm Alliance Bernstein.

    In the company’s survey of parents with young children and a combined income of at least $50,000, only 27 percent said they will meet their college savings goals. But the real problem, according to the report, may be that an overwhelming 72 percent expect their children to receive merit-based scholarships, easing the financial strain.

    Other points of the survey revealed that, in a typical family with college-bound children, a considerable amount of time and effort is invested into promoting children’s special skills. According to the report, 72 percent of the parents surveyed encourage their children academically, 47 percent encourage their kids to do well in athletics and 38 percent encourage artistic ability, all in the hopes of a scholarship that may prove more elusive than ever before.

    While high expectations are a positive trend among American parents, UCSD Financial Aid Director Vincent De Anda says he encourages a more pragmatic approach to potential scholastic awards.

    “I think [parents] should be more realistic,” he stated in an e-mail. “If your offspring is very, very, very talented in athletics and art, then the chances are better that they will receive a scholarship, but everyone should have a backup plan for financing an education. Also, you have to consider the competition at the school you are attending.”

    While a typical college-bound student may well be endowed with considerable talents, chances are that thousands of other applicants are as well, according to De Anda.

    The standard criteria for scholarships at UCSD are excellence in a particular major, leadership or community service. Rare or unique cases for scholarships include students who are orphans, cancer survivors or descendants of World War I veterans as well as for students who have mental illness in their family or come from a background that involves homelessness.

    Only 3,855 UCSD students received scholarships in the 2005-06 academic year, and only 770 received UCSD gifts and endowments — a total of just 18 percent of the undergraduate student body, well below parents’ perceived numbers.

    “It’s perfectly natural for parents to think their children are talented, unique and special,” AllianceBernstein spokeswoman Stephanie Giaramita stated in an e-mail. “But relying on those talents to fund a college education is not a realistic savings strategy.”

    But saving early and saving enough is something American families are not inclined to do. The survey reported that most families spent more on immediate, tangible goods, such as takeout food, electronics and vacations, than on saving for college.

    “We are not a nation of savers,” Giaramita stated. “As our survey revealed, parents are spending today and worrying about saving tomorrow. College costs are skyrocketing — rising at more than twice the rate of inflation.”

    Another major point addressed by the survey stressed that parents can do more to save, regardless of their income level.

    “It’s never too late to start saving because every little bit helps,” Giaramita stated. “One of the best ways to save today is through a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan. Anyone can invest in one regardless of income.”

    But while Giaramita said she believes it’s never too late, even for families without a financial plan, De Anda feels he cannot do much for students already enrolled.

    “Once the student is here, most really good options are not available, so loans are the only solution,” he stated in an e-mail.

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