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Pay For College Or Make Them Work For It?

Pay For College Or Make Them Work For It?

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Whenever the question of paying for college comes up, it seems to spark a heated debate. Some parents want to pay for it all, others are firm believers that their children should have to put themselves through college, and there is a third group that thinks half and half is a good solution. When we make the decision to tackle this issue in our personal lives, one important question should be addressed:

As parents, do we have an obligation to pay for our child’s college education?

Student

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Advocates of paying for college will claim that parents are obligated to make sure their child gets a great education. But are they? As far as the law goes, you are obligated to care for your child up to age 17 (in the U.S.). At age 18, your child becomes an adult and is legally responsible for themselves. But does having no legal responsibility mean there is also no moral obligation? I think it does.

You are obligated to care for your minor child, you are not obligated to care for your adult child. Of course, parents try to cross this line all the time and in my opinion, it is not relationally healthy. Adults should care for themselves, period. Keep in mind that not being obligated doesn’t mean you should or shouldn’t help, it simply means that the decision to help is up to you.

While I don’t think it’s healthy to help or support an adult child with the idea of otherwise being a bad parent in your head, it’s perfectly fine to help them from a personal decision standpoint. With that said, we need to figure out which option is best. And of course, each option has advantages and disadvantages.

Paying For College

Advantages

  • Child is more likely to attend college.
  • Child can put a maximum amount of focus on schoolwork.
  • Child does not incur debt.

Disadvantages

  • Child may not work hard for something that isn’t personally costing them.
  • Child doesn’t learn as much responsibility.
  • Child is more likely to get distracted and party with extra free time.

Making Child Pay for College

Advantages

  • Child learns hard work and responsibility
  • Child has less down time.
  • Child may focus more on schoolwork.

Disadvantages

  • Child may incur debt to pay for it.
  • Child may not be able to balance work and school effectively.
  • Child may decide not to attend altogether.

What About a Compromise?

It’s not obviously clear which option is better when you lay out advantages and disadvantages. What I do know is that the extremes are often never the best option. If we can choose a more moderate method, we’re likely to get the best of both worlds. Instead of arguing black and white, let’s throw in a little gray and try to bring this debate to a close once and for all.

If both the parent and child pay for college, the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Child is likely to work hard when helping pay.
  • Child learns hard work and responsibility.
  • Child has less down time, yet has an adequate amount of time to focus on schoolwork.
  • Child is more likely to attend when a parent is helping pay.
  • Child is less likely to incur debt than when solely paying.

Disadvantages

  • Child may decide not to attend if they have to pay for some of it.
  • Child may still poorly balance school and work.

If you still aren’t satisfied, let me give you another option that may interest you.

Pay For Performance

Perhaps you like the idea of half and half, but want to give your child the benefit of the doubt in the beginning (or maybe you don’t)? Here are two other ways to go about college funding:

Write Checks With Performance-based Strings Attached

Tell your child that you will pay for college as long as their grades stay within a certain range and they don’t get in trouble. If their grades slip or they get in trouble with the school, law, etc. you remove half of the funding and they can choose whether or not to get a job and continue with school.

Keep in mind, you can’t force your child to attend college. It’s not your decision. The only thing you can do is control the funding.

Pay For Progress

This option is more negative in my eyes because it communicates to your child that you don’t fully believe in them. However, if your child struggled to make it through school up to this point, it may be a fair option. Tell your child that they will be responsible for paying their own way through college for a limited period of time (perhaps one semester). If their grades are within a certain range after one semester, move to the half and half option and help them pay the rest of their way (as long as their grades stay up).

(This will probably fail if your child doesn’t have much interest in college in the first place).

Other Things to Keep In Mind…

As a parent who has the ability to help pay for college, you DO have a moral obligation to maintain healthy boundaries with your child. Here is a list of “do not” behaviors that are very common but are boundariless and relationally unhealthy:

Do not use money to control your child’s life.

Unfortunately, this is an extremely common practice. Typical instances include:

  • “I’ll only pay for your school if you go to become a [insert occupation that child has no interest in].”
  • “I’ll only pay for your school if you agree to help me do things whenever I ask you.”
  • “I’ll only pay for you to attend a Christian school.”
  • “You can’t [insert extracurricular activity]. If I’m paying for you to go, you’re going to do as I say and I don’t want you getting distracted with other things.”

Do not use money to shame your child.

When you make the decision to help pay for your child’s education, that does not give you the right to control your child, make decisions for your child, or shame them when they don’t meet your expectations. Typical instances include:

  • “I can’t believe you decided that school wasn’t for you after I paid [insert amount]. Don’t you know how hard I worked for that money?”
  • “What do you mean you aren’t going to come visit me this weekend? After all I’ve done for you, I’d think you’d show me a little more appreciation than that!”

Also, the healthy love of a child is unconditional. If your child drops out of school, gets bad grades, or doesn’t meet your expectations, it should never change your love for them.

Do not loan money to your child.

Loaning money to your child changes your relationship with them; they automatically become your slave. Don’t put this pressure on your child. If you want to help them then truly help them; give them the money with no emotional or financial strings attached.

If you loan money to your child, it can cause them to avoid you and if you keep asking for repayment, it can build resentment in you. If your child doesn’t end up paying you back, or doesn’t make it through school, you could end up losing contact with your child altogether if they are too ashamed or embarrassed to face you.

It’s not worth it.

What Do You Think?

Although I feel the half and half option is best, the decision remains personal depending on how you feel, how you were raised, and how dedicated your child is. Let me hear what you have done or what you are planning to do in the future regarding college funding.

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Mrs. Micah
Guest

My parents told me that my college choice would have to be partially supported by scholarships. So if I could get enough scholarships to cover all but what they could give, then I could go there. They might have let me go someplace else with plenty of scholarships and a few student loans, but their goal was for me to pay my way by being a great student. And to remain debt-free.

Worked well for me, no debt and high grades.

Glen Craig
Member

I think the sentence above hits the nail on the head: “parents are obligated to make sure their child gets a great education.” To make sure they get a great education is different than paying for it. Make sure your child is doing well before college and that will help them with college. If a parent can swing it then it’s ok that they pay for it. But many people do not have enough for retirement, no less a college education. Retirement has to come first (unless you know your child will become a doctor and pay for your retirement).… Read more »

SJean
Guest

I think that if parents can afford to help (even by making some sacrifices) then they should do what they can. There isn’t an obligation, but if you are quite wealthy and don’t help your kids out, it seems weird. If parents are struggling to save for their own retirement, the answer becomes obvious. Besides scholarships, parents should let their students take out student loans if necessary (only gov’t ones) but monitor how much they do take out and help them realize what their payments will be. Students should have jobs during college, unless they absolutely can’t manage it (and… Read more »

Randall
Guest
Randall

I’m definitely in the ‘pay for performance’ category. I’ve already decided to fully fund the larvae’s schooling, as long as they’re making progress towards a goal. Drop out? You’re on your own. Fail a course? You make it up (somewhere). Otherwise I’m willing to shell out the money, if I’m able.

It’s TOO EASY to NOT be able to come up with the money for school, and also TOO EASY to NOT attend as a consequence. Rather err on the side of too much pampering than not enough for something like education.

Adfecto
Guest
Adfecto

My parents provided for my tuition, fees, and housing and I am going to do the same for my children. I my not have an obligation legally, but I feel I have a responsibility to provide my children the same assistance my parents provided for me. If I’m really luck (but I’m not going to count on it) the grandparents may be in a position to help their grandkids too. There was always an underlying requirement, that the money was conditional on good grades and progress toward my degree. It was also made clear that I would get funding for… Read more »

Phil Taylor
Member

Funny. Some friends and I were discussing this last night. Great points you’ve made here. I’m in the make them pay category.

m
Guest
m

I think if the child has some of the responsibility of helping pay for school he or she is likely to value the education more and take it more seriously since helping pay for it will show how much money it really is and how much work is/was required to acquire that money. But if the parents pay a lot of it, the child can focus on the education aspect the most and not be distracted too much by a lot of financial responsibility. I think it’s best if the student can help by doing things like work study and… Read more »

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

All great comments – you have some great readers Pinyo…and they’re very active on your site!

Thanks again for the opportunity.

Paidtwice
Member

I could write a book about this (and kind of have to a degree on my own site) but I’m just going to put forth what I always do: Something magic does not happen between being 17 years and 364 days old and being 18 years and zero days old. The idea that we should start our children off as adults with tens of thousands dollars of debt is appalling to me. Welcome to adulthood, if you want to go to college have fun paying for it for the next 15 years. have a good life. You’re not even allowing… Read more »

Deamiter
Guest
Deamiter

Unfortunately, many grants and scholarships are dependent on your parent’s income being low, so if your parents aren’t poor, you’re competing solely for merit-based scholarships. 10 hours a week pays off in a big way, but it doesn’t feel as rewarding as work since most applications go nowhere. I was a national merit scholar and my parents were relatively wealthy, so I earned many scholarships and my parents helped significantly. When my children go to college, I’ll plan to do as MY parents did and fund as much of the cost of a public state-school as I can (essentially paying… Read more »

Chris Cade
Guest
Chris Cade

My parents handled some of this in an interesting way. They made me a deal: If I chose to go to college, they would let me live at home rent free and pay my car insurance. If I didn’t go to college, then I either had to move out or pay rent at home. If I lived at home, my freedom would be treated the same as if I were to have moved out. This had the effect on me of making sure I worked ALL throughout college. All 5 1/2 years of it. Because if I didn’t, I had… Read more »

jen
Guest
jen

Luckily I received enough scholarships to pay for half my schooling, so when it came to the other half my parents agreed to split it with me if I worked part-time & also maintained good grades etc. I got married in college, so once this happened my parents stopped paying their half (which I understood), but it definitely made it tougher. My friends whose parents covered everything had more free time than they knew what to do with, but instead of using that extra time to excel in school many joined social organizations or watched a lot of TV… Now… Read more »

Becky
Guest

My husband and I will help our (future) kids pay for college, but it will probably be less than half. Neither of our parents paid any of our college expenses and it worked out pretty well. I think I will also implement something I read in the comments of FreeMoneyFinance’s site once: making my kids save 25% of their allowance into a “college fund”. This way, I hope they’ll feel more invested in their education. I’ll probably carry that over when they get part time jobs in high school and force 25% of that to go towards their own college… Read more »

an9ie
Guest
an9ie

University here in Australia used to be free for citizens (and PRs too, I think), then they added a system called HECS where you had to pay, but the fees were still relatively low – about AUD$5,000 a year or something like that (I was lucky enough to be in this group), and now they’ve put the fees up again in proportion to what you’re studying, e.g., an Arts degree is cheaper than a Medicine degree. The nice thing, though, is that the fees are essentially loans from the government, which increase at the same rate as inflation (e.g., 3%).When… Read more »

Alexandra
Guest
Alexandra

If parents can’t afford to pay, they can’t afford it. People have to fund their retirement first. Having said that, I personally think it’s terrible when middle-class parents don’t save anything toward their children’s college education. Even our state school costs $20,000 a year, which is about twice what someone working minimum wage would earn if he worked full time for a year. When I went to college, it was a hell of a lot easier for kids to pay for their own college. And yes, no doubt there are scholarships. But unless these scholarships are based on merit, it’s… Read more »

Determined Single Mom
Guest
Determined Single Mom

I come from a family where I paid for my own university expenses….to a certain degree. My grandmother loaned me the money for my second year but later turned it into a gift (and gave the same amount to all her grandchildren for college – we all attended). My parents co-signed on a student loan but never outright loaned me money. My parents told my brother and me that as long as we were in university we could live at home for free (rent, food, utilities…everything included). I eventually chose to move away from home on my own which increased… Read more »

James Wisdom
Guest
James Wisdom

My college funding was structured as follows: 50% of tuition was parent, 50% me for 3.5 years on condition that I maintained a 3.0 average. If I passed the time limit or grades dropped, funding ended. The 3.5 year stipulation was based on parents’ experience (they got out in 3.5 years because they got preggers and I could damn well do the same). While I wasn’t a fan of the stipulation at first, it motivated me to take some summer classes and night classes early on to bank credits and in truth it wasn’t that hard to graduate in 3.5… Read more »

Shanti
Guest
Shanti

Ohhh, this is a great post! I love how you’ve broken down all the different possibilities for paying and written all about the relational and moral aspects of college money. Personally, my parents didn’t save for our college. When my parents got divorced when I was 8, they decided that rather than my dad paying child support (he couldn’t afford it at the time), my mom would raise us until we turned 18 (I was the oldest, I have two younger sisters) and then Dad would be responsible for college. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t save. But it all worked out in… Read more »

Mark
Guest
Mark

It is a tough question for some parents. Having come from a background where my parents paid for college, it amounted to a free ride for me. Unfortunately I did not realize the value of this “free ride” until years later after I had decided to put my education “on hold”.

To this day, I am still not sure whether I would give my kid a free ride but I would certainly try to teach my kid the value of paying for college first.

Peter Anderson
Member

As someone who paid for my own college, I think I appreciated it that much more. I think sometimes when you have to work for something, you’ll often try harder to get something out of it.

I think if, God willing, i have kids, I’ll be happy to help them out somewhat, but I also think there is some true value in having them help pay for their own education.

plonkee
Guest

I didn’t contribute very much at all to my own University. Of the total cost of around £28K ($56,000) for four years, I contributed £2k, my parents paid around £16k, and the rest was covered by student loans. Over here it’s extremely uncommon to study at anything other than full time, it’s very difficult to pay for everything yourself without taking on loans, almost impossible if you are 18 with only a few thousand in savings. I value my education a great deal, if I’d had to pay for it myself, I’m not sure that I would have gone, I… Read more »

Terry
Guest
Terry

There is always the debate of whether you should pay for school or whether to make your child pay for college. The average cost of tuition is somewhere between 80,000 and 160,000 dollars, and you probably didn’t know that 50% of students have to drop out of school because they can no longer afford tuition. What if i told you there is a way to send your child to school and not go broke.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

Great article breaking down the pros and cons of each. My husband and I have this discussion frequently as we were on opposite sides of the fence. My family was able to pay for my college; I worked summers and paid as much of my own living expenses as I could. His family was not able to pay for college and we’ll be paying back student loans for years to come. I had the gift of starting my adult life at $0, which I now realize was a tremendous head start over many of my friends. He started his adult… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

There is a third way. Tell your kids that you won’t be paying for University/College education and that they will need to work for it themselves. But be willing to step in and clear their debts at the end of the course or if they start to struggle. I know people who have done this and it builds the right ethic in their kids, which is that you have to work for it and you get nothing for free. I don’t think that kids understand the value of money otherwise and are more likely to flunk out if they have… Read more »

Pay For College Or Make Them Work For It?

by Pinyo time to read: 5 min
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