Who Pays for College When a Parent Dies?

January 22, 2015 2:28:00 PM EST / by John Fees

There are many life events that can disrupt a student’s college education, but none more severe than the loss of a parent. Given the severity of such a disruption, it is startling how little awareness there on this topic. This lack of awareness could simply be that college and university administrators have not closely considered how the loss of a parent affects not only the student, but the entire institution.

Infrequent but Dramatic Impact:

…like so many situations where insurance is useful. A study by Balk, Walker and Bakers shows that for every two years of college attended, 1.7% of students can expect a parent to pass away.  At a glance this may look like a low percentage of students; however, at a mid-size school with 10,000 students, 170 students would suffer from death of a parent. That number is not small enough to ignore.

What happens to these 170 students? Two reports indicate that loss of a parent frequently disrupts a student’s education:


  • The ACHA-NCHA’s survey shows that 15.7% of students reported that within   the last 12 months the death of a family member or friend had been traumatic or very difficult to handle[ii]

Historic Low Levels of Family Protection:

Unfortunately families may be unprotected. According to LIMRA's 2011 Life Insurance Ownership Study, only 33% of Americans have individual life insurance coverage[iii]. Although 56% of all workers have group life insurance through employers, that's still a somewhat dismal number. LIMRA_logo_copyLIMRA_logo_copy

But what do these numbers mean for college students? In the absence of adequate life insurance, the change to EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is frequently too large for a family to absorb. The death of a parent can prevent a student from completing their college education if they are unable to afford the cost of tuition.

The Student and the School Pay the Price:

When a student who has lost a parent withdraws from school because they can no longer afford the cost of tuition, the institution suffers the loss of tuition revenue and lower completion rates.

Many schools, to their great credit, attempt to provide institutional aid for students who have lost a parent and would otherwise be forced to.  But this is not always possible and it is never cost free.

A good benefit for employees, a better benefit for students:

Schools have long offered life insurance for their employees and now they can offer life insurance to protect their students in the unexpected death of a parent or tuition payer.

Over the last 18 months, we have worked closely with enrollment professionals, College Parents of America and top rated Life Insurance providers to create an affordable student benefit that can helps schools provide the financial support necessary for students to complete their education after the sudden loss of a parent. Ultimately - this effort might even help more students complete college.


Introducing GradGuard’s Tuition Continuity Plan

GradGuard designed an innovative new form of tuition protection that may be offered to all students as a real and tangible benefit.

Tuition Continuity Plan can:

  • attract students, whose families may worry about their ability to pay for college.
  • retain students who have worked hard to achieve their education goals, but have lost a primary tuition payer and can't continue paying for college.
  • retain tuition income by protecting tuition payments and keeping tuition coming in to maintain your institution.
Colleges can help improve retention and protect tuition income with GradGuard. Learn more today.


  Request More Information

[i] Pleskac, T. J., et al. A detection model of college withdrawal. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2011),


[ii]    American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2013. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association: 2013. (page 15).


Topics: student success, Student Life, College Life Protected, Tuition Insurance, life insurance, college parents, college completion

John Fees

Written by John Fees

John Fees is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of GradGuard™. Fees is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he received a bachelors of science degree in History and is also a graduate of Harvard Business School where he completed a Masters in Business Administration. John Fees lives in Phoenix, Arizona and is married to Melissa Soza Fees, Ph.D. and is the father of five children. He is the Treasurer for the Arizona College Success Arizona, a Director of College Parents of America, Founding Director and investor in Tonto Creek Camp which provides service leadership experiences to 8,000 students annually. He is also an active member of University Risk Management and Insurance Association and the Professional Insurance Marketers Association.

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