I was recently talking with two parents whose children are heading off to college. One was dealing with financial aid issues and was concerned about the amount of debt his son might have to deal with after graduation. He acknowledge that he and his wife would be helping out, but that the costs of school exceeded what they’d be able to outright pay for. And since his son didn’t make high enough grades for any academic scholarships or grants, they would need to rely on various financial aid packages.
The other one expressed how happy he was to be dodging that bullet since his oldest had chosen to take advantage of a relatively new program in the state of Tennessee called the Tennessee Promise. With this program it provides FREE education at a community or technical college for two years, with the student graduating with an Associate degree. The advantage of this program is in not only allowing students a free education, but since most of the courses are General Studies classes, those wanting to go beyond an Associate to get their Bachelor’s degree, can apply to an in-state 4-year university to take the remaining two years of course work. This means they have two years longer to save up enough money to continue their education, if they’d like, or seek employment in the area of their two-year studies, and not have the burden of student loans to pay back.
To me, any parent living in this state, who doesn’t have $80,000 to pay for their student’s 4-year college tuition is kinda crazy for not to taking advantage of their kid receiving free higher education for two years; and cutting that financial commitment almost in half, should they choose to continue!
I understand a parents desire for their child to be able to choose where they want to attend school, just as much as they should be allowed to choose what it is they want to major in. But if the alternative is cleaning out your retirement funds, or having to prolong retirement for many years beyond your original plan, then I think looking at other resources needs to be on the table.
The first guy was also struggling with the notion of his son declaring himself as independent. It seemed to bother him that a student could do that, or worst, that parents would want their kids to do that so that they don’t have to pay for their college education. So I interjected.
“You do know that there’s no law in this state that mandates a parent having to pay for their child’s college education?” I asked.
Higher Education is a privilege not a mandate or a right.
While I wish everyone who wanted to attend college could do so, and I wish our country could figure out a way to make it more affordable, if not free, it is still not a parent’s responsibility to empty their 401K, take out huge loans, or take on a second job just so they can pay for their kid’s education. Not only is it not their responsibility, but it can be dangerous for someone in their mid-50s, as was the case for him, to risk their financial future, especially being that close to retirement, in order to pay for their child’s education.
I went on to remind him that while some people can, and do pay for their children’s college; many parents don’t even have the luxury of choice in ever having had an education fund for their child, and they don’t make enough money even now to pay the tens of thousands of dollars tuition has grown to; even at state schools.
The other guy said his family fell into that group. “As sad as I am that I can’t, I just told my daughter that there was no way her mom and I could afford to pay for her college tuition. The money just wasn’t there. But fortunately for us, she was actually interested in attending a community college first any way. We were lucky.”
Sadly, I’ve heard too many accounts (and know of some personally) of parents trying to find money anywhere they can to pay for their student’s education, only for that student to not do well in school — either from not being ready for the demands of higher learning, or being away at school, or from just not caring or taking school seriously enough to try.
At the end of our conversation the first guy recounted a story of someone he knew who paid for her son’s first year of college, and after he managed to fail both semesters, she put the financial burden on him to continue forward and participate in the cost of his own education. The last time he checked, his friend’s son was doing quite well in school; even talking about the lessons he learned after blowing his first year, and the difference it’s making being responsible for it all himself.
I think if parents have the means, and the desire to pay for their children’s college education, then they should do so. For some friends of mine, it’s almost like an insult to them not to provide that for their kids. At the same time, I don’t think other parents who can’t afford it, should be made to feel bad about needing financial assistance, or having their student declare independence, in order to qualify for the various grants and loans they would have access to apart from their parents.
It does come down to money, planning, and sometimes, just being able to adjust to a new normal, and being alright with it.