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Citizens Survey Shows That Affordability Concerns Remain Top of Mind for Students and Families

Anxiety over public health and the and the economy remain high as high school and college students look for a return to normal this school year

After spending more than two semesters in flux, students and families alike are looking forward to a return to normal this fall on college campuses. However, the continued rising costs of college have both students and parents alike concerned and wary.

In its fourth annual Student Lending Survey, which surveyed current college students and high school juniors and seniors, Citizens found that a majority of both high school (69%) and current college students (70%) said that concerns around college affordability had an impact on their plans post high school and for Fall 2021 college enrollment.

The research also showed that concerns around public health and safety still exist, although significantly down from 2020. Less than 4 in 10 (37%) of prospective students said that concerns about public health and safety had a high impact on their post high school plans, with a nearly identical 36% of current college students said such concerns had a high impact on their Fall 2021 plans. This is down from a majority of both high school (55%) and current college students (53%) in the 2020 survey.

“Our annual survey has consistently shown that young adults are worried about their future and the cost of college,” said Christine Roberts, head of Student Lending at Citizens. “We are seeing families embracing discussions around the cost of college earlier and it remains critical for financial institutions to continue to support their customers as they navigate these difficult family conversations.”

More than half (56%) of those who previously spent a semester in college expected to see their overall cost of attendance increase this fall. When factoring in tuition, room and board, meal plans, travel costs to and from campus, and on campus events and activities, families expected to pay $8,700 more on average in the fall of 2021 compared with prior semesters. In the face of these rising costs, students and families are always looking for additional tools to help stay on budget. For example, nearly 2 in 3 respondents (65%) ranked having no overdraft fees as one of their top three features in a potential student checking account.

Nearly half (43%) of all families had specific discussions regarding paying for college in the wake of Covid-19, up from 40% in 2020. Exactly half of respondents said they had conversations in the first two years of high school or earlier, with 20% saying they had those discussions in 8th grade or prior. Families who were financially impacted by COVID-19 were far more likely to have discussed paying for college in recent months, with 58% saying COVID-19 prompted recent conversations. Only 6% of respondents said they never had family discussions about the cost of college education.

Weighing uncertainties and benefits

More than 4 in 10 (43%) prospective high school students said that concerns about mental health had a high impact on their post high school plans, potentially exacerbated by extremely high wait-list outcomes for incoming freshman and concerns over the job market. Current college students are also feeling the mental health impacts of the pandemic, as 42% said that concerns about mental health had a high impact on their enrollment decision.

Nearly one-third (31%) of incoming fall 2021 freshman were put on a wait list for one or more of their top choice schools while nearly 4 in 10 (37%) of prospective high school students said that concerns about the job market had a high impact on their post high school plans. A majority (55%) of students currently enrolled in a college or university said that a specific degree program they were interested in was a “must-have” when choosing where to enroll, slightly more important than affordability (54%) as a “must-have.”

The Citizens Made Ready for College life journey hub is an online resource to help families navigate the fear and anxiety that have entered the college search process. The bank is a leader in student lending and offers numerous borrowing options for credit-qualified students, graduates, along with their families including the Citizens Parent Loan, Citizens Student Loan, and the Citizens Student Loan with Multi-Year Approval. In addition, through its Education Refinance Loan, Citizens is the only national bank to offer refinancing options for both private and federal student loans to credit-qualified borrowers.

About Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

Citizens Financial Group, Inc. is one of the nation’s oldest and largest financial institutions, with $185.1 billion in assets as of June 30, 2021. Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, Citizens offers a broad range of retail and commercial banking products and services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations and institutions. Citizens helps its customers reach their potential by listening to them and by understanding their needs in order to offer tailored advice, ideas and solutions. In Consumer Banking, Citizens provides an integrated experience that includes mobile and online banking, a 24/7 customer contact center and the convenience of approximately 3,000 ATMs and approximately 1,000 branches in 11 states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. Consumer Banking products and services include a full range of banking, lending, savings, wealth management and small business offerings. In Commercial Banking, Citizens offers a broad complement of financial products and solutions, including lending and leasing, deposit and treasury management services, foreign exchange, interest rate and commodity risk management solutions, as well as loan syndication, corporate finance, merger and acquisition, and debt and equity capital markets capabilities. More information is available at or visit us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Survey Methodology: On behalf of Citizens Financial Group, Comperemedia, a Mintel Company, conducted an online survey of n=2,019 respondents, with n=1,061 parents of current or prospective college students and 958 students, which included 433 prospective college students (aged 16-18) and 525 current college students. The survey was developed in 2020 to generate insights that focus on the effects of COVID-19 on college planning. This repeat of last year's survey was the second wave of research. Specifically, this research focuses on the impact of COVID-19 for those who are applying to college in the near future, or who are starting college under the current conditions by talking to both students and parents. This research also focuses on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students this past term, and how that has affected their decisions regarding continued enrollment.


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