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How America Pays for College 2020: What You Need to Know

College • September 9, 2020 • Ashley Boucher


What you’ll learn

  • Key findings from Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College” research
  • How COVID-19 impacted college plans for undergraduates
  • How families paid for college in academic year 2019-20


To help understand how families value, choose, and pay for college, as well how COVID-19 impacted college plans, Sallie Mae partnered with Ipsos to survey about 2,000 college students and parents of college students from across the country. The result is the 13th edition of “How America Pays for College.”

Here’s what the research showed:

Families spent an average of $30,017 on college in academic year 2019-20. Parents covered 44% of costs, or $13,072, using income and savings. More parents used income this year to help pay (70% in 2019-20 vs. 55% in 2018-19), and significantly more used a dedicated college savings account like a 529 plan (37% in 2019-20 vs. 21% in 2018-19).

Slightly more than half of families (52%) have a plan to pay for all years of college, up from 44% in 2018-19 and the highest percentage in the history of the study.

Nine in ten families (91%) agree college is an investment in the student’s future, and 80% believe attending college is part of the American Dream, up from 74% in 2018-19.

Here’s a look at some other interesting findings:


Learn more about how families value, choose, and pay for higher education, and how COVID-19 may have effected their education, by visiting www.salliemae.com/howamericapays/.


Ashley is a Sallie Mae employee and a graduate of Immaculata University. A mom of two young girls, her favorite dinner topic is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


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