As the struggling economy makes saving for college that much harder, parents working with financial advisers are saving more for higher education than those who do not work with planners, according to a new study by Fidelity Investments.

The fourth annual College Savings Indicator study found that the percentage of college costs parents are projected to meet is 16%, down from 18% last year and 24% in 2007, the Fidelity survey's first year.

However, those who work with an adviser are projected to meet 28% of college costs, down from 34% last year. And 88% of parents working with advisers have started saving for college, compared with 67% who are not working with an adviser.

Financial advisers are giving help beyond the usual savings and distribution strategies, the survey said; 25% of advisers helped clients research schools, up from 13% last year. Thirty percent of advisers are now helping parents navigate the financial aid process, up from 16%, and 37% are helping to secure funds, up from 20%.

Fifty-one percent of families reported that they were familiar with 529 college savings plans, up from 40% in 2009. Among those parents who have not begun to save, but plan to do so, 30% said they intend to open a 529 plan, up from about 18% in 2009 and 15% in 2007.

More than 40% of parents with preschool-aged children have started saving for college costs in a dedicated account, compared with only 28% of parents with children in high school. Parents with preschool-aged children have saved a median amount of $8,000, slightly less than parents with middle school children ($10,000) and high school children ($17,000).

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