Myth #5: Parents Must Pay for College

Most clients who come through my door consider it a given that they have to fully fund their children’s college education for four years. It’s a ton of money. And for a lot of kids, it’s neither what they want to do nor what is best for them.

For those who do want to go to college, allowing them to share in the cost actually prepares them to be more responsible later in life. It also gives them the incentive to discover in school what they really want to do instead of just getting a degree to please their parents.

This “I have to pay for the kids’ college” mandate is so strong that people are shocked when I question it. When I show them the financial implications of this mandate, their eyes roll back in their heads.

A couple who begins saving for college for their ten-year-old child will have to put away approximately $1,000 a month for eight years for their child to attend a typical in-state public school, and $1,675 to attend a typical private one. Even if a couple begins saving when the child is born, the monthly bill is still on average $600 for an in-state public school and $995 for a private college, each month, for eighteen years. And this is per child!

We love our children and of course we want the best for them. But we automatically make this mental leap that the best thing for them is to go to college. We assume that to be a good parent means we must pay for all of it. We certainly don’t want our kids going around telling their friends, “Well, my parents aren’t going to pay for my college.” What would the neighbors think?

Where is it written that we have to pay for our kids’ entire college education? Where is it written that we are bad parents if we don’t? You don’t have to pay for four years (or more) of your child’s college. Financial planning is about peace of mind, not the avoidance of guilt.

I am certainly not saying that college is bad. Far from it. For thousands, if not millions of people, it is a valuable experience. But I am drawing attention to the automatic assumption that you have to pay for it, and at the institution of your child’s choice, and for as long as they want to attend. Because of the automatic belief that parents must pay for college, most parents do not involve their kids in the decision-making process of how it will be paid for.

I want my daughters to go to college, but I want them to pay for part of it. I want them to generate the will power, the interest, and the drive to do what it takes to make it happen. I tell them I will help them in accomplishing what they want, but that they have to be the driving force. It will be a family effort, but it must be propelled by their desire.

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