Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yes, Virginia, you CAN pay for college!

There are plenty of people out there who will emphatically tell you it’s impossible for a kid to pay their own way through college these days. I know. That’s what I’ve been told over and over again. Even as my own kids were doing it.

I’m here to tell you that’s balderdash. It is possible for a kid to pay their own way through college today. It’s not easy though. There’s no magic formula or secret scholarship. There is hard work involved. But I believe the sense of accomplishment and the maturity which develops over the course of a student’s undergraduate years will be more satisfying than having mom and dad foot the bill for four or more years only to graduate with a psychology degree and no idea of what to do next.

Some parents feel it is their duty to pay for their kids to go to college. If you have the means and if your kid isn't going to take you for a ride and party for four years, then I say, "Good for you!"

I want to tell all the other parents out there it’s okay to NOT pay for your kid to go to college. You’re NOT a bad parent because you aren’t footing the bill for a $100,000 or more education. You’re NOT being selfish by protecting your own retirement account and credit rating. You’ve probably gotten where you are by your own hard work and it’s time to let Junior grow up and experience some of that American work ethic and pioneer spirit that has made our country strong.

I know many parents who aren’t comfortable with that. They tell me how they graduated with lots of student debt and how hard it was to start a family, buy a house, keep a car running and pay their utility bills. They want more for their kids. They want their kids to have it all right away--without having to sweat or worry over mounting debt.

That’s a noble thing, wanting to take care of your kids. It’s not bad to want to help them avoid debt. But it might be keeping them from growing up.

We live in a technologically advanced world where everything we could possibly want is literally at our fingertips. We have more variety, more choices, more luxury goods than any other civilization at any other time in history. Life is good. Life is easy. Easy credit and the natural human desire to “keep up with the Joneses” have made bankruptcy and losing one’s home all too commonplace.

I propose that your kid will be better prepared in life to avoid financial disaster if he learns how to make it through college on his own (albeit borrowed) dime.

Good ol' natural consequences

There is an adage in parenting philosophies that says natural consequences are the best punishments to apply to children when they break rules. For example, if Sonny doesn’t get his homework done, he doesn’t get to play his computer game. As Sonny matures, these consequences become more severe, because his actions take on greater importance. If Sonny cheats on a chemistry final exam he could fail the course and lose his spot on the football team.

Now, apply this adage to paying for college: If Sonny doesn’t pass his classes, he doesn’t get any credit toward graduation, but he still has to pay for the class. If Sonny doesn’t pay off his student loans his credit rating suffers and he might lose his job. If, however, mom and dad have paid for Sonny’s college education and Sonny has no stake in it, he can continue to fail classes without worry. And if he doesn’t have any student loans to pay back, he can use his paycheck to buy himself more stuff, while mom and dad continue to pay the bills.

Coming soon: Suspended Adolescence--the Twixters


Jennifer V said...

I completely agree with you! I worked part time and took out student loans while I was in college. This helped me to learn time management, budgeting, interviewing skills, responsibility, and marketing. Sure, I had many late nights trying to finish my homework after finishing my shift but I found the love of my life with these I also found time to volunteer after my job and schoolwork were finished. I never did the spring break in Florida routine, didn't party hearty, and lived at home to save expenses (that's how my parents supported me in college). I was a serious student because I hated the thought of wasting my money by failing a class.

Tammy said...

I have been really blessed to find a job that I really love, so working to pay the kids tuition doesnt feel like a hardship. If I were working 12 hr nights in the NICU that would NOT be the case, Im too old for that!

My oldest son is studying to be a teacher and we qualify for NO assistance at all. =:O If he borrowed for all of it, he would be in debt forever, so Im proud to help him. His younger brother has a checkered academic past and we are watching his progress with baited breath. At the first sign that he considers himself at Moosehead U, he is on his own ! Tammy in VA

Ragdoll Kittens said...

Good thoughts, one and all. I think this depends on your financial status plus the individual child's attitude.

For instance: I grew up in an upper middle class family where my parents could afford to send me through college, but they raised me to be hard-working and frugal. I never failed a class or even dropped a class. I was very relieved and thankful that my parents could send me. I had very little spending money, and I worked summers and maybe ten hours a week during college semesters. Nothing over-whelming.

That said, I would not be handing a free education to a young adult who abused my hard-earned dollar. The rules would be set down and followed. Parents should not enable bad behavior!

karouni said...

I agree for the most part, though it certainly would have been a load off to not have to work and go to school at the same time. Instead of taking four years to do school, it's taking me five, and my parents have charged me rent, so my housing is not free. That said, I don't really regret that no one paid for me to go to school because my degree is wholly and completely my doing. It does grant a sense of pride.

What I think is possibly a good middle ground is this: Johnny has to take out student loans when he enters school, but every year that he makes the deans list, Mom and Dad will pay for that year's schooling. This gives the kid a choice; do well in school so that you can leave school debt free, or blow time and owe the money yourself. If there's simply not enough money to do this for all the kids, then the same concept could be applied but only for a graduate program (since probably not all the kids will go into grad programs).

There is one point to mention though, and it may sound crass to or mean to older folks. The thing is, student loans are usually huge loans, and they are not bankruptable. If Johnny has to take out 50,000 in loans to pay for school, then graduates, gets a decent job, marries, and starts having kids of his own, he may not be able to help care for his parents as they age because that student loan debt payment will still cut into his paycheck well into his forties.
However, if Mom and Dad take out the loan, and Johnny is responsible and still ends up getting a decent job, wife, and kids, when Mom and Dad are elderly, Johnny could more feasibly care for them, and when they eventually pass, the debt goes with them (the government does not come after one's estate in the event that a person dies before a student loan is repaid).

I only mention that because my parents were older when they adopted me, so I will be faced with caring for them likely when I have little ones and a mortgage and student loan payments...and that's even if we're frugal.

Just a thought....

(Of course, the above things only really make any sense if the child is a responsible person and not taking advantage. The good thing about loans is that even if you agree to pay initially and you're taken for a ride, you can pull out the next year)

Anonymous said...

AMEN! I've seen too many friends' kids (who are going on their parents' dime) party their way through school. Because we have 12 blessings from heaven, we just couldn't afford to do more than help out with the first semester at community college. At the moment, we have SIX in school (a few of the twenty-somethings started later, and a few of the younger ones earlier, so this is the year it all came together) and one who is done, married with children. Every one of them has their own plan for paying for their education. Some have bigger loans for more expensive schools, but all but two have started at the community college and lived at home, to save on tuition and housing. This is really a great way, especially for homeschoolers, to go. You get the first 2 years out of the way for about $10,000, which we have been lucky enough to qualify for financial aid for. The trade-off is that you have to live at home with mom+dad and the little kids, but if you can be mature enough to sacrifice that "independence", you will be much better off when the school loans come due!