Parents Are Having to Rethink College Plans

Tracey Columns

Original Date of Publication: 3/15/11

Dear Tracey,
I am a professional man with a lovely wife and three kids who will all be college bound within in the next few years. My wife and I have worked hard putting away money for their college education and our retirement. Now, there really isn’t enough money socked away to make all of it happen.
My wife says we “owe” our children their education and that we should get an equity line to fund college. (We already have a hefty mortgage.) I say we divide our college fund by three and use what we have. I expect my kids to contribute by working and/or securing student loans. (One may quality for academic scholarships but I’m not banking on that yet.) My wife thinks they should only have to worry about their grades. I think community colleges are a great place to earn general education credits and state schools provide wonderful experiences. No surprise, my wife wants private universities right off the bat.
I enjoy my profession but I don’t want to be at it until I’m 75! Am I a lousy father for thinking we all need to adjust the game plan since this recession hit?
Rethinking Funds

Dear Reader,
I commend you and your wife for being so money wise over the years. It takes real discipline to save for college and retirement. How frustrating for you, and for many others, that the current economy is forcing you to reevaluate major life decisions.
I am a bit biased on this topic, having worked my way through both of my state university degrees. While we did contribute towards our children’s college education, they were also expected to work part-time during the academic year and full time during summers. We could have gone into debt and completely supported them but we believed they would learn valuable life lessons from participating in their own education. Besides, we didn’t want to work until we were 75 either!
Which is not to say that I didn’t have moments of feeling like I was a very “bad” parent. (Is this what your wife is experiencing?) After all, we were were bucking the norm. But when did footing the entire bill for college become the standard practice? “Entitlement” is a real slippery slope.
Ultimately, our children felt proud of their college education because they could take credit for a job well done. As with so many financial issues, you benefit the most when you actually pay for something yourself. This is a priceless life lesson.
How do children learn responsibility if “funny money” magically appears each month in their checking account and/or they have unlimited use of a credit card? This approach to college does young adults a real disservice. Kids need to respect money, not take it for granted. If expected to contribute, they quickly figure out what they can and cannot do. They learn the value of a dollar and the concept of budgeting. “Doing without” actually goes a long way towards creating a strong adult.
Working while going to school is difficult. However, throughout history, countless people have done it, each learning a solid work ethic along the way. Sure, it’s challenging to do both but knowing how to budget time, meet deadlines, and make wise choices about activities, all add up to valuable life lessons.
Many families are having to rethink which college to attend. While some private universities make sense for specific career goals, there are plenty of schools that will meet the needs of most students. And please don’t underestimate the state university system. We are fortunate to have wonderful schools in California. I encourage you and your family to explore what they have to offer. Have an open mind – you may be surprised by what you learn.
I appreciate that you are in a position to give your children some financial support. Support them however you can. Send them a small monthly stipend, help them with their car insurance or a plane ticket on their break, but don’t sell yourselves short in the process. They have life lessons to master and you deserve a full retirement.

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