My oldest son just graduated from college, and after watching him work so hard all these years, it was an honor for us to be in the positions we’re in, to pay for his education. However, with financial advisors suggesting parents save up to $6,000 a year for each child to attend college, the question arises -- should parents feel obligated to pay for higher education? Two Care.com staff members share their differing opinions.
No, Debt Builds Character
When I was a senior in high school, and had been accepted at a state school as well as my dream college, my dad sat me down and explained how much college was going to cost -- and the debt I could expect to have after graduating from each type of school.
And it would be my debt. Not his.
After seeing the numbers, I chose the state school. If I hadn’t, I would have graduated with $80,000 more debt than I did.
My parents paid for about half of my college education, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way -- even if they’d had all the money in the world. And now that I’m a parent, my wife and I have already decided we won’t give our kids a full ride. Even if we can afford it.
We feel that paying your own way makes you more accountable for your grades and getting a job after graduation. My wife’s parents paid for her undergrad degree. But she will be the first person to tell you she didn’t feel nearly as invested in her education as when she went back to nursing school -- which we paid for ourselves.
Our son is almost two years old and our thought has always been that we won’t pick up more than half the tab of his undergrad degree. So no, we are not saving for this future expense. Even if we can afford it.
Giving kids debt helps them make their own life choices. It creates accountability, builds determination and teaches responsibility. I strongly feel that kids who pay their own way have a more vested financial interest in doing well. So while debt can steer you away from your top school, it can also make you grow up -- and isn’t that what college is all about?
Yes, College is the Best Gift a Parent Can Give
I was raised with parents who saved for me to go to college since the year I was born. When we talked about life after high school, it was always “when you go to college” and not “if you go to college.” And I am incredibly grateful.
In high school, I knew that I would go to the best university that I could get into. And I worked really hard. Around me, my friends had to make certain sacrifices based on schools that would give financial aid, reward them with scholarships, or they felt limited to our state university -- even if they didn’t feel it was the best fit.
My parents felt it was their responsibility to set my brother and me up with the best possible education possible, in an atmosphere that worked best for my learning style. They felt there was so much value in letting me go to my dream school, be challenged by like-minded people, and choose the career path of my dreams (regardless of starting salary). But they also taught me that this was a gift. I was lucky. And I will never take their generosity for granted.
Some might say that kids who don’t have to work to pay for their education are more spoiled and less engaged in their studies than their debt-accruing peers. But because I was raised with the idea of my paid-education as more of an anomaly than the norm, I never slacked off. Sure, there’s a tremendous value in paying for your own tuition. But there’s also a flip side. Many of my friends were never taught what debt meant, so their first bill was a rude awakening, especially in the middle of a struggling economy. Or, they felt paralyzed by how much debt they would have and worked throughout college. This often meant their internship opportunities, extra-curriculars and volunteer work was limited to what they could squeeze in around a mall job. And thus, their post-college resumes weren’t as substantial.
There are just so many college savings programs these days to help parents, I can’t justify NOT paying the full tuitions for the children we have ‘one day’. So yes, my fiancé and I will budget and save for their college educations from the moment they too, are born. This will become a part of our monthly bills, and we’ll have to work everything else around it. We want to make sure they feel security as they cross that stage on graduation -- and they feel the wealth of opportunities around them, as they start their futures with clean financial slates.