Fewer parents of college-bound children are planning to cover all of their kids’ college costs, and those who plan to share the cost are less certain as to how to the bills will be paid. Those are some of the key takeaways from a new Fidelity study.

Only 29% of parents plan to cover the full cost of college — down from 43% in 2016. Those who intend to cover a portion are planning to pay 62% of the expenses — down from 70% in 2016. But that 62% figure may be unrealistic. The study found that parents are on track to meet just 28% of their funding goals.

Who will fill in the gaps? In part, parents are looking to their kids. According to the study, “parents want their children to set aside a whopping average of $15,385 by high school graduation, up from $12,431 in 2016.”

Are college-bound kids on track to save that much? The study didn’t say, but it did point out that 40% of parents of high school sophomores or older haven’t even mentioned to their kids that they’re expecting them to contribute to their college costs — up from 31% in 2016.

Some 40% of parents are also planning to use student loans — up from 36% in 2016. The study didn’t indicate whether those loans would be the parents’ responsibility or their children’s.

There were some bright spots in the Fidelity study as well. For example, while the number of parents saving for college has remained fairly stable (70% this year vs. 72% in 2016), they’re starting to save sooner. Specifically, 37% started to save for college when their child was younger than two years old — up from 21% in 2016.

Clearly, paying for college continues to be one of the more significant financial challenges families face. If that’s a challenge you are facing:

  • Run some numbers. One of the best free online calculators is the College Savings Calculator offered by savingforcollege.com. Knowing how much college may cost when your child is 18, deciding what portion of that cost you’re willing or able to cover, and seeing how much you need to invest each month to get there may help provide the motivation to find the money.
     
  • Open a 529 plan account. There are other ways to save for college, but a 529 plan offers some of the most compelling benefits. (Read Making the Most of Your College-Savings Program.)
     
  • Have some conversations. If you’re expecting your children to cover some of their college costs, let them know. At some point — probably around age 12 — get specific. Help them understand how much college is likely to cost, tell them how much you and your spouse are aiming to cover, and then help them develop a plan for how they could save for some of those costs. Estimating how much the monthly payments for various loan amounts would be may help motivate them to save.

If you have college-bound children, how are you planning to cover the cost? Or, if your kids are older, what college-funding advice do you have for parents of younger kids?