"What I've really seen in the last 10 years is a generational shifting of the responsibility" to pay for college, said Ellen Frishberg, director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Our parents helped us pay for school. These parents are not as willing to help their children pay for school."
"It's such a new phenomenon that there's not a lot to compare it to," said Christine W. McGuire, director of financial assistance at Boston University. She said changing attitudes about debt were behind the trend. "We're so comfortable with debt burden now as a society, and the parents already have a significant debt burden of their own, they may not see it as a big deal if students are also taking on large amounts of debt," she said.
Maggie Walsh, a senior at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, Ga., said that although her top choice for college this fall was New York University, she was worried about the cost, which could come to more than $30,000 a year for tuition alone, according to N.Y.U.'s Web site. As a Georgia resident, she said, she could take advantage of a state scholarship program that offers full tuition at any public state university to any high school student with a B average.
"I've been thinking about it," Ms. Walsh said. "If I don't get any financial aid from such-and-such a college, is it worth going into years and years of debt? It's starting to look like more and more of a bad idea."