The Cost of a College Education

While on vacation this summer, I caught up on some magazine reading. I came across this question in Parenting, and I’m pretty sure my jaw physically dropped. Keep in mind that real humans answered this question on the magazine’s website and the results were printed in the magazine.

So here’s the question: “Would you pose naked for a magazine or website if it would pay for your child’s education?”

A SHOCKING 53% (of how many, I haven’t been able to determine) said YES! One mom said this: “A real parent would sacrifice anything for her children, including her own self-respect and dignity, and would teach her kids to think the same when it comes to their own children.” What the what??

All of this just got me thinking about my college experience and what we plan to do with our kids, which will not involve being paid for nudity. As always, I just like to see where we fall on the spectrum of opinions and asked for your feedback (there are some great comments on that post, too). Here’s the poll, which you can still vote in if you haven’t already:

Please, please keep in mind that all of this I’m about to write is my opinion – if what works for your family is totally different, fine. But I have pretty strong opinions about this.

My parents did not pay for my college education. They helped by paying a good portion of it, but my mom devoted a LOT of time to figuring out how financial aid packages worked, and she made me apply for lots of scholarships (not the pie-in-the-sky ones that are just a lottery, but real ones with essays and stuff), even small ones. And guess what? That hard work paid off many times, to the tune of probably $12,000 or more over my 4 years of school. Many thanks to my dad for being in the Army and thus qualifying me for a children-of-veterans scholarship that paid my tuition for 3 years (I applied prior to my freshman year and didn’t get it, so I applied again the next year). Huge. My senior year, I applied for a $5000 scholarship to be awarded to someone in my major, and I won. Not because I was the most talented, well-rounded student in my major – not by a long shot – but because I took 2 hours and applied. Me and TWO other people. But enough about scholarships.

I was expected to work from the time I could get a job on; I only didn’t work my first semester in college, which my parents agreed to so that I could get myself established at school. My job paid for any shopping or partying I wanted to do (and believe me, I had plenty-o-fun while being a poor college student at that glorious university), as well as saving for a car (which I bought with a little help from my parents my junior year of college).

The expectation was that if they were going to be paying as much as they were, I’d better do my part by getting good grades and taking my education seriously. And I did. I graduated with high honors in four years’ time, and that included a change in my major my sophomore year.

You know what? I’m truly, truly thankful that my parents didn’t just pay for tuition, books, room and board and my spending money. I know I took it more seriously because 1) I was paying for some of it at the time from my meager earnings, 2) I knew that it was a sacrifice for them, because I was fully aware of the costs and that they had 3 more kids coming after me and 3) I had loans that I was going to have to pay back when it was all said and done, and it better have been worth it.

Matt came from a similar situation in regards to how school was paid for, and he had loans as well (about twice what I had), so when we married, we owed a bunch. On very small salaries. But I think that it taught us so much about managing our money. We didn’t take grand trips, we saved up and bought a tiny first home, and drove very reasonable cars. We still do. We made it work because we had to. The government wanted their money back.

Having a job all summer long during high school and then college (and most of the school year) didn’t kill me either. No, I didn’t travel abroad or go on extravagant spring break trips. And honestly, it didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t now. I didn’t miss out. I chose a different path. I didn’t have a brand new car, but I had something nice enough and pretty reliable that got me around (and I rode *gasp* a bike, and took the bus when I didn’t own a car in Champaign). The same will be happening with my children, whether they like it or not.

My college friend Kim wrote this about her daughter, Zoe, on my first post (timeout for a little background: Kim’s work situation will allow for her daughter to attend state college at a reduced tuition, so they already know that much even though Zoe is 6!): “sheโ€™ll still be expected to work because work experience has benefits beyond paying for college.” So true. Having to balance work, school and fun does wonders for a college kid’s inflated sense of self-importance and underdeveloped time management skills. Even if my kids somehow managed to get school paid for via scholarships + what we’re willing to contribute, a job will be part of the expectation.

I don’t think I’m doing the boys any favors by letting them think that a no-strings-attached college education is something they have a right to. In my opinion, it’s not. The goal of child-rearing is to turn them into productive members of society (who are hopefully well-rounded enough to make good husbands someday!), right? How can you expect a child who has been handed everything to step out of college with a shiny new diploma and actually contribute something if nothing has ever been expected of them? Or how to manage on a small budget when all they’ve ever known is that everything is paid for? I just don’t think that the odds are in our favor.

Don’t get me wrong; we have every intention of helping pay for the boys’ undergraduate degrees, and we’re actively saving for their college education. I want them to know how much we value the opportunity to get an education, and not make the end result a crushing burden financially. I am hopeful that we can do what my parents did, which was seek out appropriate scholarships and grants and supplement that with money from us and either cash from or loans for them.

But feeling the pinch a bit? I think you learn more from that than any number of finance classes will ever teach you.

8 responses to “The Cost of a College Education

  1. I agree with what you said. My parents helped me but I still have student loans to pay off. Brian’s parents did a better job at having him get scholarships to help pay for things as mine did.

    I do wonder what people do to save up for kids college funds right now? Brian and I have been researching this and trying to find something that will work.

  2. Agreed! I never had to have a job in college, and I honestly still don’t have a clue how much it all cost my parents. *I did have a tuition & fees paid scholarship; and since my p’s were divorced I think that changed our situation (they each paid equal amounts which ended up being more than they would’ve if they’d been married). Anyway, I am hoping part my kids’ jobs in HS is to apply for scholarships. I’ve already told them as much.

  3. i was lucky – my parents paid for my college and expenses BUT i was expected to apply for just about every scholarship out there, which helped out a lot. i also had a job almost the entire time i was in college and during the summers to pay for my extra stuff.
    i’m still thankful that i came out of college w/o any debt and would love to do that for kenny and luke. hopefully with scholarships and in-state tuition, that will be possible.

  4. i’m with suzanne–i worked alllll through college and started working at age 15 (which were valuable life/money management experiences), but i’d probably have picked another major that paid a much higher salary if i was going to have a ton of debt coming out of school–obviously a job for the wrong reason and a very tough lesson to learn down the road when i was miserable. i think i would have been in the “living UNDER paycheck to paycheck” category if not for my parents, so i’m forever thankful that i’m able to do what i do and love without that added stress (as if living in a square box for 2 years wasn’t enough!) talk to me in 20 years when i’m at that crossroads, but i’d love to support my kids through college, if they work, get scholarships, and of course go to a state school, like, say, uh, u of i?! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. My parents didn’t help me with college stuff. My college education was on me and I certainly have some regrets about how well I handled some big decisions. But I was on my own financially the moment I graduated high school. I worked before I was legally allowed to work (child labor! ha, just kidding I loved it) and I worked all through college. I made it.

    Jeremy and I have talked about this subject A LOT and we agree that we don’t think the kids should get a totally free ride from us financially. But we absolutely will be there for them every single step of the way. We have a plan in place for how we’ll help pay for school for each of the boys and we are excited to be able to do this for them. One of the reasons Jeremy joined the Army was because of all the things it opened up for our boys for their college educations!

    I think the Parenting magazine thing was annoying and that magazine is pretty liberal in most of their parenting advice. Permissive Parenting anyone? We live in a society that expects things to be handed to them, bottom line. “Hey, um, would you pay my mortgage for me? Yes? GREAT! Thanks!” Glad to know there are parents out there who still believe in teaching kids/young adults the value of working for something and being grateful for what you’ve got. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Posing nude? Yeah…not gonna happen. Really?! Reeeaaally?

    I already laid out my experience in the last post so I won’t rehash. I agree that kids need to learn responsibility and work ethic – particularly in those sticky college years when they are fluctuating between childhood and adulthood. And I sincerely do hope that we can help and encourage them to pursue scholarships. I don’t, however, want them to feel pressure or defeat if they don’t receive scholarships. I will rejoice with them if they do. I won’t make them feel bad if they don’t.

    I also have to say that Lee and I were fortunate enough to enter into our marriage without any debt at all. We are forever grateful to our parents for that. I don’t think it’s wrong or a bad thing for children to come out of college with student loans to pay off. Sometimes it’s simply a necessity. (We have three children, this is a possibility for our kids – particularly if they pursue higher education). But within our means, Lee and I would really like to give our kids the gift of starting off marriage or adulthood debt free as was done for us.

    This is barring, of course, that they are responsible and respectful of us, the opportunity they are receiving and with the money that we give them and that they will be expected to earn through jobs.

    I think it’s a child by child basis. All of our kids will be given equal opportunity. How they choose to use that opportunity will determine the end result. I also think that these decisions are usually built upon personal experiences from the past, either negative or positive. As most of the comments have proven, we are all deciding what to do personally based upon what worked, or didn’t work for us.

    Great topic! ๐Ÿ™‚

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