For Parents

What Percentage of Parents Pay for College?

What’s the relationship between college tuition and parental financial assistance? Here are the hard numbers.


40%¹ of adults aged 18-24 attend college. That means every year, just shy of 20 million students have to figure out a way to cover or delay tuition costs. Approx 70%² of students rely on financial aid to help cover the cost. A majority of students also work while enrolled. Considering the higher wages college graduates receive, it’s no surprise that many parents prioritize a college education for their kids. Equally of no surprise is that many college students relied, if only in part, on their parents to help with tuition.

But how much does the average parent pay? And what exactly do they pay for? Furthermore, how much can generational wealth impact academic success?

Percentage of Parents That Pay For Their Kid’s College

Recent studies show that 85%³ of parents pay at least a portion of their child’s tuition. And, considering college tuition has been on the rise for the past two⁴ decades, parents have begun to leverage savings, retirement accounts, and equity to cover the cost of higher education. This is especially risky for lower-income families who may not pay the amount of tuition back before retirement age. Higher-income families that can more easily provide financial support also have higher rates of graduation to the effect that they are eight⁵ times more likely to pursue and succeed in higher education. And, interestingly enough, families that have at least two generations of graduates report higher lifetime earnings than first-generation graduates. However, numerous compounding factors lead to the graduation rate gap. For example, students who have to work during college often develop financial anxiety and have higher dropouts due to burnout, combined with specific cultural mandates like taking care of an ill family member.

These factors are taken to a higher level for private college students as the average tuition can be almost double the public tuition, depending on the state and institution. Another factor as well is the order of birth. The first child, maybe even the second, is put through college in part by parental assistance. But an impoverished family’s third child and beyond may receive significantly less help. Also worth mentioning is that while poverty-stricken families have the lowest rate of graduation, the middle class does only marginally better, with a graduation rate of 50%.⁵ This means that the middle class is much closer to being poor than being wealthy in terms of graduation rate and life-long earnings. These reasons may play a role in the declining⁶ enrollment rates and percentage of college students that take longer routes to earn bachelor’s degrees.

How Much of Their Kid’s College Expenses Do Parents Pay For?

On average, approx 45%³ of a student’s tuition is paid by their parents, and other relatives cover an additional 2%. Parental assistance, approx $25,000³, plays a huge role in the average college student’s life. Parent PLUS loans are a common option for parents looking to help pay for college. These loans are government-sponsored financial aid; currently, the total debt countrywide for these loans is just shy of $90 million⁷. But tuition isn’t the only way parents provide financial help. Other factors that parents pay for include the following.

Credit Card Debt

47%⁸ of college students rely on their parents to pay their credit debt. It’s worth noting that the average college credit card debt ranges from $1500-$2800, depending on the length of time in college.


13% of students have their utility bills or a portion of them covered by their parents.


39% ⁹ of college students experience food insecurity during the school year. Food insecurity can contribute to worsening mental states like anxiety, depression, and burnout. While many first and second-year students have mandatory food plans, these plans don’t cover three meals a day. Additionally, the cost of food plans is often rolled into the total cost of tuition. The average student spends approx $400¹º eating off campus any given month. Unsurprisingly, the connection between poverty and food insecurity shows that students from non-graduate households worry about food more frequently.¹¹


One study shows that a little over 20% of college students receive money from their parents to help pay for vehicle costs. Costs include purchase, repair, maintenance, etc. The total amount these students received averages out to $9600.¹²

What Parents Can Do To Help Their Kids Through College

Parents, regardless of economic status, do have certain resources at their disposal to help their children through college. Those resources include the following.

Saving Early

Starting a college savings account when a child is born is an inexpensive way to provide certain financial building blocks. Parents can deposit 1-2% of every paycheck into the account over 18 years. Parents can also invest the money into a time deposit account. 

Government Financial Aid

There are multiple financial aid programs for parents of future college students. Programs like a 529 Savings Plan and state-based savings plans. Alternatively, there are Roth IRAs, custodial accounts, and even mutual funds. 

Emotional Support

Sometimes an encouraging word is worth more than financial support. There is a clear connection¹³ between parental emotional support and its effect on kids pursuing any form of education. Children become more committed and achieve higher grades based solely on positive parental support.

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About the Author

Chadhurst Sharpe

Chadhurst Jainlett Sharpe spent over six years working as a personal finance banker. He's passionate about giving young minds the tools and resources they need to succeed with money.

Last updated on: December 28, 2023