Friday, July 31, 2009

Burning Question of the Day: Paying for your Child's College

Burning Question of the Day: Do you plan to pay for your child's college expenses? Why or why not?

Justin and I have talked long and hard about this. And for us, the short answer is no. From about middle school, we plan to be frank with our kids that we will to help where we can with living expenses and/or tuition, but we will by no means be paying for college or housing in it's entirety. If they wish to attend college, they will need to have the grades to support college scholarships, participate in an activity that would help them receive scholarships, or work and save during the time they're in high school.

If they don't wish to attend college enough to make that happen, they can work, learn a trade, or join the military. Will life be harder in some ways if they don't attend school? Sure. But it's their choice.

In college, I knew more than one person whose parents paid for every dime of their college experience, paid for their housing, and even gave them "fun money" on a monthly basis. Not one of these kids did well in school, and were more interested in partying than studying. More than once I heard them say, "Well I'm not paying for it."

My parents were by no means rich--they helped where they could, and I'm forever thankful for that. But the hard truth is that I turned down acceptance to a prestigious university because I couldn't afford it. The hard truth is that I transferred from a private school to a public school after my first year because we couldn't afford a second year at a private school. The hard truth is that I busted my butt to finish in three years instead of four, because I couldn't afford four. The cold hard facts were that my last term in college, I was working four different jobs, taking 22 credits, and planning a wedding. I didn't walk at graduation, because it was too expensive, and I had more important things to spend that money on. And you better believe I graduated Summa Cum Laude, because I was paying for most of it, and it was important to me to do well.

I don't bring this up to brag, or to say "poor me". In fact, I HATE when my husband or family members bring it up to people like I've done such an incredible thing...because really, it isn't all that incredible. I bring this up because to me, graduating from college was essential. And because it was essential to me, I made it work, and did whatever it took to make it work. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always fun, but it also taught me absolutely invaluable life lessons about hard choices, sacrifices, and what it REALLY means to work hard. And it's a hard truth that I expect my kids to learn as well.

I know that my opinion may not be a popular one, and I'm curious to hear what you all have to say. So again: Do you plan to pay for your children's college expenses?


  1. This is a hot topic for me too - and I honestly think that everyone's own opinions come from what their experiences were. I don't think that having school paid for makes you less of a student, less appreciative, etc. I knew plenty of kids on loans working three jobs who got into just as much trouble academically as other people whose parents were paying.

    It is definitely our plan to pay for our kids educations. After our own retirement (because I think the best gift we can give our kids is for them not to have to take care of us financially in the future), it's our number one priority, and we've already setup a savings plan even though we don't have kids yet. I had college and living expenses paid for by my parents - graduated in 3 1/2 years with a 3.9 GPA while participating in sorority life, mixers and plenty of extracurriculars. My parents deal was they'd pay in-state tuition and room and board. If we wanted to leave the state or go to a private school, we needed to look at scholarships and financial aid. All of my siblings stayed in state by choice, so it never came up. I definitely partied, but not at the expense of school. I think the best gift my parents gave me was an education with the added blessing of no debt coming out of school.

    B's parents paid his first 2 years, then his dad got really sick and they couldn't afford to help out. B had a good amount of savings from summer jobs and part-time work during the school year and handled the last 2 years on his own. He partied just as much paying for himself as he did when his parents were paying, but still graduated in 4 years with a good GPA in Engineering.

    Because our own upbringing and education plans worked for us, that's how we plan to provide for our kids.

  2. My hope is that yes, we will be able to pay for our child(ren)'s college. And by that, I mean we will pay for tuition, housing (as long as it's on campus), and incidentals (books, meal plans, add'l class fees). At the same time, I would expect my child to have a job through college to pay for their gas, car insurance, and anything else (going out, shopping, eating out, etc.).

    My mom didn't pay for my college - I had a full scholarship. She told me that she was proud of me and appreciated the fact that I found a way to go to school for free, so she actually let me live in one of her rental properties for free. However, I worked all through college because I was responsible for my utility bills, my car, food, etc.

    I want my kids to walk away from college with some sense of responsibility (hence the job and paying for their car) but I don't want them walking away saddled with student loans.

    Chad's parents paid for his college too, but they had a rule - we'll pay for 4 years. After that, you are on your own. I plan on instituting the same rule with my kids, along with the rule that if you don't keep your grades up, I'm not going to continue to pay.

  3. Emily, I think you're totally right that in this situation, opinions tend to come from what your own experiences are.

    Obviously, not all students whose college is paid for are slackers--but I know that personally, while I would have worked hard no matter what because I'm like that when it comes to grades, I also made decisions differently because of the fact that I was paying for things myself (i.e. like to use the library copy of a lot of textbooks rather than buy my own).

  4. We plan on paying for kids education. In fact, we've already starting saving for both retirement (like Emily, that's our first priority so our kids don't wind up being financially responsible for us) and for future college educations and we aren't even TTC.

    I used scholarships and loans to get through school and Tom's parents paid for all of his school. It was very important to his parents and he could go to any school, for any profession and not have to worry about paying for it (he's an only child, so I'm sure that helped a lot). His parents made sure that he could go to a prestigous undergrad that was going to open a lot of doors for him, especially since he had aspirations to become a lawyer. Unfortunately, Tom's mom passed away during his college years, but it made it very clear that she wanted Tom to be able to continue his education without worry of loans, etc. She was very generous and Tom was able to obtain his Master's and to attend a Top 10 Law School. We will be forever grateful. Tom took this gift he was given very seriously and did not abuse it anyway. We both know people who did though, so I understand your point.

    While I don't think we will be able to help our kids to the extent that Tom's parents were able to, we will definitely pay for at least their undergrad degree. My hope is that our kids can start this adult life without school loans to worry about.

  5. My response would just be to rewrite what you wrote. We'll help as much as we're able, just as our parents did, but no, we will not be intending to pay for it full out.

  6. We are planning on helping out our kids as much as possible. We hope to pay for their complete tuition/board with them paying for books and any extras that they want. But you better believe that if their grades slip, they will be paying for their own tuition and/or coming home to community college.

    My parents paid for as much of my tuition as they could and then I have student loans for the rest (about 1/4). John's parents paid completely. Neither of us though were slackers- I think there was always that underlying knowledge that we had to work in order to stay at school. Plus neither of us wanted to be in a crappy position when we got out of school!

  7. Sounds pretty wise. My parents told me that they'd help me pay for college, but wouldn't cover it in its entirety--which means that, of the loans necessary for me to do undergrad, half are theirs and half are mine. Grad school, though, I'm on my own, as $20k in loans for next year can attest. (That just for living expenses. I'm hoping it will be unnecessary to spend all of it. My general attitude toward the debt is, "Fuck it, going to happen eventually, might as well be now.)

    As to paying for my own children's? Hell, I dunno. Hard to say. Hopefully I'll be able to work some gig where they get lower tuition at the university where I work (which will hopefully not be a shitty one). Education looks to be getting less and less affordable, with Congress hell-bent on spending money on almost anything but the development of our children, so I'll probably have to help them in some capacity.

    Interestingly, most European nations subsidize their university systems to the point that students pay a few hundred dollars a semester--and this is after decades of it being free entirely. Their students perform better, and are more motivated, than ours, despite their educations costing a great deal less.

    I will never, ever encourage my children to even consider joining the United States military, no matter how hugely they've fucked up their lives. Having had the US military take one of my best friends from high school and turn him into a conscience-less killing machine with a fat case of untreated PTSD, I'd rather my kids shot heroin on the street.

    Like the Army commercials (don't) say: "You made them strong. We'll make them programmed murderers disconnected from their emotions, provide them with inadequate care for their physical wounds, and ditch them without the slightest consideration as to mental trauma once we've used every last bit their tortured bodies and minds have to offer."

    (Heh. But what you would expect a marxist to say?)

  8. I have no intention on paying. I'll help out here and there just like my parents did for me, but my future kids will be responsible for the bulk of their education. I may cover a few things like car insurance (I bought my car, but my parents covered my insurance), but I expect my kids to have a job to pay for other things.

  9. Awesome topic! And a heated one too! My own experience is one where my parents paid for my schooling as well as my siblings. But I have heard at least one of them say they kind of wish they had some responsibility so that the desire to do well wasn't just one of academic pride but a financial burden too. They say, as you mentioned, that they would have worked harder and opened more doors for a career in the future.

    Personally I hated college and never wanted to go. I went because I did not grow up in an environment where an alternative was an option. So I totally agree with you that if college isn't for them and they know what else they'd like to do I will support it. On the other hand, in my job I have to put in a lot of family information on the children, and I have yet to report a family applying to our program where both parents are college educated and graduates. For that matter I have yet to see parents with a special technical degree or training certificate applying. So based on this new and personal exprience I think you make success if you know what you want, but a little extra training really helps.

    My plan is to offer to cover in-state tuition. I just don't think I'll be able to afford to offer an all-expense paid education to each of my children if I have as many as I want. If my kids want to go private or to another state without a reciprocity agreement with ours they will be in charge of the difference. Any scholarships they get or awards I figure are theirs and will go to cover their side of the expenses.

    My master plan is to send my kids to study in Ecuador! If they know what they want and which country they want to live in, IE a lawyer in Quito or a doctor in the U.S., then that training has to happen in the country they want to reside. But if it's more general, like literature or math, then I will highly encourage my kids to go to the public or private schools there. The public school in Quito is $40 a semester for citizens. The best private school in Quito is $1500 a semester, and there's a sister school in Indiana if they want the U.S. experience for a semester or two. I really hope Carolina, and any other babies we may have, choose that route of they're undecided.

    And what helped me more than anything was to drop out of college for awhile. I will definitely support them working for awhile if they don't know what to do straight out of high school. It made me more motivated when I went back and more understanding of what I could expect for an income if I didn't get some sort of additional education beyond my diploma.

  10. And if I've inspired any of Meredith's readers to look into an Ecuadorian college education for their own children, a non-citizen can attend the public school in Quito for about $600 a semester. Anyone interested?

  11. I think with my own kids I would help where I can but tell them they will have to either save up or take out loans for the majority. I would like to think we could keep a savings going for each child to cover more of it, but the reality is that is just not possible for us. With my parents, they just helped me apply for aid and that was it. Having them pay was NEVER even an option because they wouldn't have been able to afford it, and that was fine with me. But I also went to college in town and stayed living with them for 3 of the 5 years I was an undergrad and never had to pay a thing for rent or food, so I was lucky enough I didn't have to worry about extra living expenses. I think each situation is different. Honestly, if we were rich (or capable of saving money!) I think I would pay for their education. Only because I know how much it sucks to be paying on your student loans for the rest of your life! I would be sure that they keep up their grades though and if they did start to slip, I'd be done helping. The parent can pay for the tuition, but the kid needs to have the motivation to make anything of it.

  12. I'm going to do everything in my power to pay for my kids college education. My mom paid for mine- and I am forever grateful for the the gift. I cannot thank her enough.
    If I had paid for my college education, I'd be in one (or both) of these situations:
    1. have crazy amounts of student loans to pay off. There's no way we'd have been able to afford a child if I still had debt hanging over my head.
    2. I wouldn't have finished college. There's no way I could have had a FT job, and done school FT too. I busted my butt in college and walked out with a B avereage- and that was with a PT job.
    My mom also paid for me to be in a sorority as well- so it's safe to say I did my fair share of partying. But never once did I let partying ruin my studies- I had to keep a B average or better to be in the sorority. And if I didn't keep up my grades, I was out of the sorority, and my mom would quit paying for school.
    I respect your decision- you and J know what's best for your kids. That said, I think it's important for kids to get the college "experience" without worrying where money for books or next semester's tuition is going to come from. I can honestly say I don't think I would have gone/completed college had I had to foot the bill.

  13. This is a pretty hot topic for me as well as a few others that I can tell...

    If we have the money, we will be paying for our kid's college. We will start saving after they are born so that we will be able to afford it.

    My parents paid for my education and I am eternally grateful. My hubby's parents did not pay for his. So I know what it's like to have student loan debt and it's not fun. I feel that if we can afford to pay for it, then we will because there's something about being able to start fresh once you graduate college.

    When a kid graduates college sometimes they are 30-40-50 grand in debt.... How can they start out strong, a job these days barely pays for the minimum payment. I want our kids to be able to graduate, get a good job and start a life of their own without having to worry about student loan debt.

    I can't say how amazing it is to not have a ton of student loan debt as an adult. IT sometimes takes kids until they are 40-50 years old to pay off student loan debt. I know if I would have had to pay for my college, I might not have been able to go or I would be in debt up to my eyeballs for a good 30+ years.

    I guess in our opinion, if we can afford it, we want to help our kids through college (though, of course they have to pay for their everyday expense, car, etc...) in order to give them a head start when they hit the job market.

    Everyone has their own views on this, but I know that I am not any less appreciative because my college was paid for and I worked my butt off to do well because after all, SOMEONE is paying for it.

  14. Man- it is a tough decision. My parents set a dollar amount and if I exceeded that amount the rest was mine to deal with. It was a good deal I thought. Chris's parents would have paid it all- anywhere. I don't really like the idea of letting a kid just mooch and perhaps be a slacker- but I also do not want my children to start off in the real world with a ton of debt. Why give them more hurdles than the real world already has? I don't know. We will see what happens.


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