I believe most parents are united in a common goal to give their children the best life possible, which often includes the desire for them to attend college. Long before they even begin filling out college applications, we start saving money for their higher education and dream of who they might become.
Now it’s time to take off those rose-tinted glasses we parents sometimes wear and take a step back. A college education can be a great investment or a crippling burden to you and/or your child. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but then again … neither is $30,000 worth of student debt.
Not Every Teenager Is College Material
We see college as the road to a better life, but not every child is ready to start the journey at 18. The United States has the highest dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with just 56 percent of college students completing four-year degrees within six years (Reuters 2012).
Some questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is your child more interested in receiving an education or the fun and freedom college offers?
- Will my child attend class and complete homework without my supervision? Remember professors aren’t teachers. They are not going to set-up a parent/teacher conference with you. They will just give your child a failing grade.
- How is my child doing in school currently? If they are struggling now, how do you expect them to do better in college?
- Will a college education make a difference in my child’s life? Is it the best choice for what they want to do?
Some people fear if they don’t send their child to college immediately after high school, they will never go. This is a possibility and one that understandably scares many parents. As a Mom, I do not even want to think about my girls not going to college. There can be a sense of failure if they do not attend for both parents and children.
However, it is important to assess whether your child is ready for college as there is no rule that they have to attend at age 18. If you have any doubts, talk to your child and work together to overcome your concerns. You may be surprised how quickly they change their behavior to prove that college is the right choice for them.
College Cost Should Be Relative to Future Potential Earnings
This is why I think there is SO much student debt. It has become a social expectation to send your child to the best college possible without consideration of debt to future earning potential. I strongly encourage you to crunch the numbers with them before accepting an offer. Calculate what their student loan payments will be in comparison to what they will likely earn. It may not look too bad at first, but after you include—rent, car, groceries, entertainment, phone, etc.—the picture may change drastically. Few kids know how much these things even cost, so this can be an eye-opening exercise for them.
Ultimately you may have to make a difficult and unpopular decision for your child if their dream school is cost prohibitive. I sympathize, but don’t kid yourself that avoiding the fight now is the better choice. Letting them take on unsustainable debt is far more cruel and has long-term financial repercussions for them as well.
Please note: there are only two ways to eliminate student debt—pay it off or die. Harsh, but true. Bankruptcy will rarely absolve them from paying back their student debt (thanks to changes in 2005 that made it very difficult to prove undue hardship in regards to student loans).
Start Talking about College Early to Set Expectations
I recommend you start talking to your kids about college as soon as they enter high school. Find out how interested they are in attending, where they want to go and why. Share with them the rules to qualify for parental financial aid, such as:
- Meet certain GPA average in both high school and college
- Attend an in-state public university
- Amount of tuition you will cover (if any)
- Work a part-time job to offset costs now and in college
- Master budgets and demonstrate they can balance bills and fun on their own
- Understand how credit cards work and the pros and cons of using them
Your goal is to make sure you are on the same page with your child and work together to make sure college is a good investment for both of you.
College Is a Privilege, Not a Right
The reality is college costs money and not everyone has the luxury to attend. It is not four years of non-stop partying paid by you or their student loan. You and/or your child are ultimately footing the bill, so make sure they understand the responsibility that comes with this privilege, so they can look back at their four years in college with great fondness, rather than regret.
Next Monday, we’ll examine different ways to save money for your children’s college education.
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