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Student Loans Reports

Who is Paying For College? It Might Depend On Race or Institution

Although talk of free college for all has ramped up recently, paying for higher education is a responsibility that still falls in the hands of students, their guardians, or sometimes both.

According to our student loan debt statistics, 60 percent of all college graduates leave campus with student loan debt. Furthermore, there are roughly 45 million borrowers out there that collectively owe $1.52 trillion in student debt, though the amounts that each owes varies greatly.

A previous LendEDU report that was featured in the Wall Street Journal found that only 6 percent of women’s parents paid for the majority of college, compared to 10 percent for males.

To learn more about how students pay for college, we have decided to revisit the topic on a larger scale. Using licensed data from College Pulse, LendEDU analyzed 13,563 unique responses from current college students that were asked the following question: “Are you responsible for paying for college?”

The responses were than broken down to reveal how the responsibility of paying for college changes between gender, race, college, major, and region.

The Overall Results

The plurality of college students, 39 percent, indicated that they are responsible for paying for some of their college education. This likely means they have taken on student loan debt, but the remaining cost was covered by grants, scholarships, or savings.

Meanwhile, 29 percent of respondents stated they are handling the entire cost of college themselves, while 32 percent are not paying it at all. As noted earlier, LendEDU data found that 60 percent of graduates have some amount of student loan debt, which means much of the remaining debt-free 40 percent likely falls within the groups of students that were not responsible for paying for college or only partially responsible.

Results by Race

While the share of poll participants from each race that are paying for some of college remained fairly consistent throughout, there were some noteworthy trends.

Middle Eastern respondents were the most likely to not pay for any of their college education (48 percent) and Asian participants were not far behind (45 percent). On the flip side, the Black and Hispanic/Latino cohorts were the least likely to not be responsible for paying for college at all (26 percent each).

On the other end, Native American students indicated that they were on the hook for the entire cost of college the most often (36 percent). Black and Hispanic/Latino respondents were not far behind (32 percent each), while Asian and Middle Eastern were the least responsible for the full cost (18 percent).

Results by Gender

With no one answer option differentiating by more than one percent, the gender breakdown was the most even of all featured in this report.

33 percent of females indicated they are not paying anything for college compared to 32 percent of males. 40 percent of male students are responsible for some of the cost of college, while 39 percent of females hold the same obligation. Finally, 29 percent of female college attendees are paying for the entire expense, compared to 28 percent of males.

Results by School

To be considered for this section of the report, an institution had to have a minimum of 30 current students answering the question.

It was quite interesting to see so many Ivy League colleges and universities near the top of the list meaning they have high percentages of students that do not have to worry about paying for college. Seven of the top 12 institutions relative to the original sort were Ivy League members, with the remaining member, Cornell, ranking 23rd.

Additionally, elite institutions outside of the Ivy League like Duke, Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis, Cal Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon all ranked highly in terms of students with no financial responsibility in affording higher education.

This trend is likely due to a high percentage of students attending those schools coming from affluent families that can handle the costs fairly easily. Further, top universities and colleges, especially the Ivy League schools, are known for their massive endowment funds, which provide scholarships that can help reduce the total cost.

Conversely, state schools like Washington State University, Rutgers University, Central Michigan University, and Arizona State University had the highest percentages of students that shoulder the responsibility in paying for a college degree.

State schools, known for their low tuition, are a great alternative for students that have a limited capability in affording higher education, which is likely why they have such high percentages of students that pay for their entire college experience.

Results by Region

It is important to note that the regions listed symbolize the regions where the students come from, not where their respective institutions are located.

The most attention-grabbing datapoint is that 51 percent of international students indicated that they had no responsibility of paying for college while only 35 percent of the next closest cohort, the Northeast, answered the same.

Why might this be? For starters, a good number of international students likely come from wealthy families if they are even considering transcontinental travel for a college degree.

In addition, many U.S. higher education institutions have programs that discount tuition for students coming from certain countries, exchange programs, and scholarships that provide full tuition coverage for international students. Furthermore, some foreign countries have established programs and scholarships that will pay their citizens to receive a college degree at a U.S. university.

The Northeast, anchored by affluent cities like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., had the second highest percentage of students that did not need to pay for college at all and the second lowest percentage of students that pay for the entire cost of college.

Results by Major

For a major to be considered for this portion of the report, it had to have at least 30 unique responses.

Upon first glance, it is tough to notice any real significant themes from the table above, but the data is interesting to review nonetheless.

A more interesting method would be to see what kind of average salary each of these majors usually leads to so as to foreshadow the financial health of respondents. However, since the precise amount of how much money each student has spent on his or her college education is not available, it would be near impossible to develop any quantifiable metric with this data.

Your Options to Pay For College

Below, LendEDU provides a few different options you have when it comes to paying for college.

Federal Financial Aid

This is really a two-pronged answer, as federal financial aid can come in a couple of different forms. The first includes scholarships, grants, and work-study programs, and these forms of financial aid are what you should prioritize first because they often do not need to be repaid.

The second is federal student loans, which is what you should turn to next after the above options have been exhausted because these will usually have lower student loan interest rates compared to private student loans.

For both, you will need to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as this will determine how much financial aid you receive to help pay for your education. When deciding how to pay for college, completing your FAFSA is the number one most important step you need to take.

Private Student Loans

After you have maxed out on federal financial aid, you likely will still have gaps left to be filled in terms of your college tuition bill.

This is when you could turn to private student loans to finance the remaining portion of your college education.

Since there are many private student loan lenders out there, like College Ave, Citizens Bank, and Earnest, it’s imperative that you compare all of your options to increase your chances of getting the best possible private student loan.

Parent Student Loans

A third option you have at your disposal when it comes to paying for college are parent student loans.

Parent student loans can either come from the federal government in the form of Federal Parent PLUS loans or they can come from a private student loan lender like College Ave.

Either way, your parents will be the ones taking out the loan and will also be responsible for the repayment of the loan so this could be a useful route to learn more about.


All of the data that can be found within this report derives from a single source, College Pulse. College Pulse, an online survey and research platform focused on the college demographic, collected responses from 13,563 college students who are currently enrolled full-time in four-year degree programs for the following question: “Are you responsible for paying for college?”

The initial sample was drawn from College Pulse’s Undergraduate Student Panel that includes over 235,000 verified students representing more than 200 different four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states. We then applied a post-stratification adjustment by using demographic distributions from the 2017 Current Population Survey to account for non-response bias. The samples’ weights were rebalanced based on age race, ethnicity, and gender with an iterative proportional fitting process.

While the overall number of respondents was 13,563, you may notice that almost all of the different sections feature a different number of respondents. While all respondents came from the original pool, some were filtered out depending on the breakdown that was being done. For example, if a school did not have 30 unique respondents during the school breakdown, they were excluded. Or, if a respondent did not have a race classification in the dataset, they were excluded. Just as a school needed 30 unique answers for the school breakdown, majors needed 30 unique answers to be included in the major breakdown.

All figures listed in the report derive from simple division against the overall number of responses for each section.

See more of LendEDU’s Research