Families have implemented more cost-saving strategies to cut college spending in the past academic year, choosing less expensive schools and finding more economical ways for students to attend.
More students also are living at home in order to help afford college, according to new survey results.
The findings are from an annual study released Monday by Sallie Mae, the country's largest student lender.
They show that the average amount spent on college by families responding to the survey declined by 5 percent in the 2011-12 school year. More parents and students alike said they make their college decisions based on the cost they can afford to pay than in the previous four studies.
"This really reflects the economic conditions that we see today," said Sarah Ducich, senior vice president at Sallie Mae. "We are seeing families make adjustments, saving more money and being more cost-conscious."
The survey, conducted for Sallie Mae by the Ipsos polling firm, was based on telephone interviews in April and May with 1,601 college undergraduates and parents.
Parents spent an average $5,955 on college from their income and savings, results showed. That was down from $6,664 a year earlier and $8,752 the year before. They also borrowed slightly more — $1,832 compared with $1,573 in the 2010-11 survey — although that was still less than they did two years ago.
Students took on more of the burden by digging deeper into their own funds. They spent an average $2,555 on college from their savings and income in the last academic year, up from $1,944 the previous year. But their spending wasn't enough to make up for cutbacks by their parents.
All told, parents funded 37 percent of college costs through spending or borrowing, down from 47 percent two years ago. Students accounted for 30 percent; grants and scholarships footed 29 percent; and relatives and friends paid for 4 percent, according to the survey.
Just over half of the students in the survey lived at home while they attended college this year, up almost 9 percent from a year ago. Most of that increase was accounted for by families with income of more than $100,000.
A shift toward two-year colleges also was evident for a second straight year, Salllie Mae said. Respondents included 29 percent who attended two-year public schools, up from 21 percent the previous year.
"American families are frustrated by the cost but they're being creative and employing different solutions to make sure their students can go to college," said Ipsos pollster and managing director Clifford Young.
The survey also found a decline in credit card use among college undergrads since the Credit Card Act took effect 2½ years ago. That legislation barred those under age 21 from having credit cards without a qualified co-signer or proof of sufficient income to repay the debt.
Although few used them to pay for college costs, 35 percent of students owned a credit card this academic year. That was down from 42 percent in 2010, the first year the survey asked about credit cards. The median outstanding balance was $196.