There’s been a bit of discussion lately about whether parents should pay for their kid’s college education fully, just help or pay nothing at all. I’d like to point you to a few sites and then discuss my own opinion and experience.
First, JLP and AllFinancialMatters asked the same question as early this month. It was a short post, but I recommend checking out the comments.
Next up, Single Ma has an exceptional article explaining why she does not intend to pay for her daughter’s college education. The article is about more than just spending money for college; it is an inspiration to parents and parent-to-be on how you should teach your child to be a self-reliant and motivated adult while still holding their hand when needed. Definitely check out the post and the comments, and then take her poll.
Lastly, Mrs. Micah has an excellent article advising on ways to save money getting into and going through college. Additionally, this was part of a network writing project, so she also links to about a dozen other articles related to college spending and saving.
A Little About My College Experience
I’ll say up front that my parents paid for my housing (through loans) and food (for the first year or two), while I paid for my tuition, utilities and fun money. However, prior to even applying for college, my parents and I never really discussed who would pay for what, what my limits were or how I would get financing. Honestly, throughout college, I never really understood the financial aspect of school. All I knew was to go to the registrar, give them some information and I was good to go for a semester.
In reality, my parents set up all of the financing themselves. They paid for my off-campus housing (I never lived in a dorm) through Parent-Plus loans, while they got me Stafford loans. I got a single scholarship to help pay for tuition. In the end, my parents and I each ended up with around $20,000 in debt from college. But then again, my parents also paid for my sister’s housing as well, so their debt is doubled.
I was a smart but lazy kid back in high school (and elementary school too). Heck, I still am pretty lazy. Therefore, I didn’t really look into any scholarships or grants that would help pay for college. My two main choices for college were Notre Dame and Penn State. I visited Notre Dame during a bus trip to a Penn State football game, but ended up deciding it was too expensive to attend.
That was a case where I wish I would have discussed the financials with my family further before making an assumption. Again, I didn’t understand what options I had, and at the time I needed someone with more discipline, motivation and experience to help guide me through the process. Actually, that’s how I got the one scholarship ($4,000); my grandmother pushed me to enter the contest, and I ended up winning 2nd place. And that was with very little effort! Who knows how much I could have gotten with just a little initiative!
About Parents Paying for Their Kids
Now to the main question: Do I think parents should pay for their kids education. My answer is that parents should only HELP pay, if they can. Although I appreciate my parents taking on all that debt for me, I realize now that I would have preferred more guidance and forcefulness from them instead. I would rather that they saved that money towards their retirement rather than taken on $40,000+ in debt for my sister and I.
My state-school education landed me a well-paying job, especially compared to my parents’ wages. Once I pay off my debt, I plan to pay off the portion of education loans my parents took out for me. I don’t know how much is left of that debt right now, but I don’t want my parents to go into their 60s with all that debt hanging over their heads. And I’m pretty sure I would have to pay for that debt eventually because to my parents, it’s just too big and they have so many other debts.
I fully, 100% appreciate what my parents did for me during my college years, but I’ll restate that I would have preferred to get more help with applying for grants and scholarships than their financial help so that neither they nor I would be saddled with so much debt. It’s been almost 7 years since my graduation, and almost 12 years since I signed up for my first loan, and I just now have it down to almost 50% paid off.
So parents, please teach your kids fiscal responsibility and initiative, while continuing to guide them emotionally, spiritually and financially as-needed. I don’t recommend just throwing them to the wolves with no support, since graduating college and leaving their friends is so traumatic already. I fully support Single Ma’s stance, and if we ever have kids, I won’t be stressing over their college tuition. I’ll be focusing on our retirement instead.