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College choices increasingly driven by money, says survey

Parents are no longer footing the bill for college. Scholarships, grants, and loan packages are covering tuition now, leading to choices based more on finances than academics, like less expensive colleges and more marketable majors.

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The White House estimates the average undergraduate student would save $1,500 in interest charges if Congress acts before leaving town for the August recess.

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"We have moved into a post-recession reality in how people pay for college," Ducich said.

Parents' enthusiasm for college has not shriveled, though. The survey found 85 percent of parents saw college bills as an investment in their children's future.

"We're in a new normal where big ticket items like college, families will pay for them but won't stress about them too much," said Cliff Young, managing director at Ipsos.

One-fifth of parents added work hours to pay for college and half of students increased their work hours, too. The report found 57 percent of families said students were living at home or with relatives, up from 41 percent last year and 44 percent in 2011.

Among other strategies employed to deal with costs:

- One-fifth of students from low-income families chose to transfer to less expensive schools.

- About one-fifth of students said they changed majors to fields that were expected to be more marketable upon graduation.

- In all, 67 percent of students and their families eliminated colleges at some stage during the application process because of costs, up from 58 percent in 2008.

"It forced them to adopt new behaviors of savings and ways to find nickels and dimes," Young said.

The tuition sticker price at public four-year colleges is up 27 percent beyond overall inflation over the last five years, according to the latest figures from a separate study from the College Board. This past year it rose nearly 5 percent to an average of $8,655 nationwide. Including room and board, the average sticker price at public colleges is now $17,860, and students pay on average $12,110. At private four-year colleges, the average full tuition price is now just under $40,000, with the average student paying $23,840.

What does that mean for the average college student?

About two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 had loan debt at graduation, and their debt averaged $26,600, according to the most recent figures from the California-based Institute for College Access and Success. That was an increase of about 5 percent from the class before them.

The Ipsos telephone poll was conducted between April 10 and May 9 with 802 parents of undergraduate students aged 18 to 24, and 800 18- to 24-year-old undergraduate students. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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