Intriguing connections between cultural heritage and a family’s views on college and funding options
It’s not surprising that 4 out of 5 families in the U.S. see a college degree as the key for a child to open the doors of opportunity, establish a career, and achieve financial security. It’s also not surprising that most are concerned about affordability and are opposed to their children taking on student loan debt. But the general similarities may stop there according to new research from Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).
In this new body of research, MassMutual‘s College Planning and Saving Study examines the attitudes, behaviors and needs of families related to planning for and funding higher education. The study provides a deeper understanding of the importance placed on education and how ethnicity affects family decisions and financial behavior.
“We wanted to understand the motivations and challenges that different cultural communities are facing related to college planning and funding,” said Wonhong Lee, head of diverse markets with MassMutual. “We found intriguing connections between cultural heritage and how it shapes a family’s view on obtaining a college education and how they plan to pay for it.”
Through a deep dive quantitatively via a national survey and qualitatively via a series of focus groups in various communities across the U.S., some interesting revelations surfaced:
- Latinos see college as a means to a professional career and financial security. Latino parents are against children taking on student loans and debt, and interestingly, starting at a less expensive 2-year college was a more frequently considered option to help manage the cost of a higher education.
- African Americans view college as a path to a high paying job, respect and equality. African American families rely on resourcefulness to pay for college and had the highest level of familiarity with specific funding options like work-study programs.
- Asian Americans often relate their children’s college education to their American dream as it is often one of the top reasons for immigration to the U.S. Chinese and Asian Indian parents intend to pay for their child’s education themselves and have saved the most on average of all of the groups. Asian Indians, in particular, see college as a top financial priority, even more important than their own retirement. Koreans are the most likely of all of the groups to plan on scholarships to pay for college and expect a child to contribute, as well.
The findings of this research study come on the heels of MassMutual’s launch of its newly refreshed brand, which was designed to better reflect and build on the legacy and the core values that have guided the company since its founding. The new brand recognizes that while the world celebrates independence, true happiness comes from interdependence and our reliance on one another.
Based on the research study’s insights, MassMutual advises families to honestly answer a few tough questions to help plan for a child’s education:
1. Have you truly examined your financial situation and identified the priorities?
2. What are your family’s goals for higher education?
3. Without sacrificing retirement savings and other priorities, how much would you like to contribute to each of your children’s savings funds?
4. Have you included your child in the college saving and funding discussion?
5. Is your current strategy aligned with your answers to the above questions?
It goes without saying that families today are making trade-offs to help fund a college education, and are allocating their available funds in various ways, but to varying degrees according to the research study. When families started saving and to what degree they are on track also varies.
The good news is that there are many ways to prepare for college costs such as traditional college savings plans like Coverdell and 529s, investments, and even life insurance, such as whole life insurance that offers guaranteed cash value growth. There are also tools available to help figure out how much you need to save each month that align with your goals, such as the MassMutual college savings calculator.
“The clearest revelations from the research were the influence of cultural heritage on motivations and behaviors when it comes to planning and saving for college, as well as the gap between intent and reality,” said Lee. “Although over half of survey respondents said they intend to pay for at least half of their child’s college tuition, just one-quarter say they are on track to save enough to do so.”
MassMutual’s College Planning and Saving Study was conducted for MassMutual by New American Dimensions, LLC in December 2016 to examine the attitudes and needs of families related to education planning and funding. Qualitatively, twenty-two mini focus groups were conducted with five ethnic groups (Hispanic/Latino, African American/Black, Chinese American, Korean American, and Asian-Indian American) in English and in-language. Quantitatively, a 20-minute online questionnaire, conducted in English, comprised 1,750 interviews; within the total number of surveys, 150 completes were obtained for each of the 5 ethnic groups. Both qualitative and quantitative research was conducted with men and women age 30 to 64 with children age 5 to 15 for whom they are financially responsible. Respondents also met a minimum household income requirement ($50,000+) and participate in financial decision-making for their household. Results for the total were weighted to the 2010 U.S. Census distributions for ethnicity to be representative of American families in this age and income bracket.