Are Children Entitled to a College Degree?

It seems like every personal finance magazine I read reinforces the idea that our children are entitled to a college education. Beyond that – it’s the parent’s sole financial responsibility to provide a college education free and clear for their children. Don’t get me wrong, every parent would like their child to have a college education, but at what cost?

Where was it written that we as parents need to gift a college education to our children?

Those with a college degree still fair better financially than those without, but consider this: The average college graduate leaves school with $20,000 in debt. Is that really putting your child on the road to financial success?

Maybe, maybe not.

If your child is going to change the world and earn enough money to pay off that debt within 5 years, it’s probably worth it. But if your child is looking at a profession with a starting salary of $35,000, it’s going to take a long time to dig out from that degree.

Any responsible parent would feel at least a little like a failure if they saddled their child with $20,000 of debt before they even joined the workforce. So it’s not surprising that many parents are paying the bill themselves. But this is putting in place an even riskier situation down the road. Parents who tap into their retirement savings, or skip saving for retirement altogether for the purpose of paying for their children’s college costs are going to end up much worse than the student with $20,000 in debt.

Remember this: they have student loans for college costs, there’s no such thing as a retirement loan.

With social security on the fast track to bankruptcy, and their retirement savings flushed down the university drain, the wreckage caused by a generation of retirees who spent their savings on their children’s education might make the recent credit crisis, resulting bailout and deficit increase look like a bank overdraft fee.

A better choice for those in this situation is to start at a 2 year school, subsidized loans, grants, scholarships, and a part time job.

I got a Bachelor’s Degree, but I did the first 2 years of classes at a community college where the tuition was a fraction of a state University. I paid for the whole thing with minimal cash from my parents, and a part time job. I got the basic classes out of the way and did it without going into debt.

After that, I went to a state University for the final 2 years to focus on core classes that related to my degree. I still graduated with student loan debt, but far less than I would have had I gone straight to a 4 year school out of high school. And my various part time jobs taught me the value of money and having to work to afford the things I wanted. A win-win for me and my parents.

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18 Responses to Are Children Entitled to a College Degree?

  1. Sarah says:

    Love this article! I have two sons, 13 and 6, and would LOVE to pay for their college but it isn’t feasible without my husband and I sacrificing our retirement. We have college accounts for them, and put in what we can and whatever it comes out to be when the time comes for them to go to college that is what they get. It is a good solution for us because we don’t worry about our future financial situation, and we feel like we are helping our children too.

  2. bigtimetopbanana says:

    Economically I completely agree with you. But going to University for me offered me so much more than just the degree. It enabled me to leave home and grow up significantly, forcing me to be independent and learn to make a new set of friends.

    I think a better argument for the parents not paying is a real simple one. If parents are expected to be responsible for paying for all/some of University education, then they can rightly expect to have at least some control over it. My four years of University were the craziest, most hedonistic time of my time so far. And I was responsible and accountable for all of it.

  3. Traciatim says:

    I went to school to a 1 year private college to learn graphic design. I’m not using my training at all and still paying off my loan.

    My kids who are now 7 and 3 are going to be taught from middle school on up that they should have a part time job when they can, be saving for University, after high school spend 2 years in the workforce at whatever high school grad employment they can find to save for school. I think this will teach them the value of money and the act of saving. I really don’t understand why this isn’t the normal flow of all students.

    Will it work out this way when they have friends piling on loans to get a Bachelor of Arts in Basket Design of Babylonians with preference to the Neo-Babylonian Period . . . who knows? At the very least it will teach them to work for their goals, even if they go right to school after high school they should have already worked by then and learned how little they make with no education.

  4. M E 2 says:

    I have been saying it for years:

    You CAN finance an education, and I do understand that may not be the optimal choice. However, you CANNOT finance a retirement.

  5. Brian says:

    If we can get Obama elected, we might not have to worry about paying for college anyway. I saw a clip at a rally where a college student was complaining that she had to take out loans to pay for her education. He let her know that under his watch, he would do something about it. I like this spread the wealth idea. I would have loved everyone else paying for my schooling.

  6. David G. Mitchell says:

    Parents need to help their kids but not spoon feed them. I told my kids when they were young that my wife and I would cover the cost of room and board while they were in school and the cost of tuition if they went to a school in our state college system. We prepaid the tuition when one son was a year old and the other was 5 years old. As a result, college tuition was very manageable.

    My kids still needed to cover books and spending money and anything else they wanted to buy (including anything related to an auto). It forced them to work during their summers and to save.

  7. MollyJ says:

    You HAVE to help your children. My parents adhered to the “if you want it you should work hard and pay it yourself.” school of college finance. I did. I worked two jobs and went to school full time, had good grades, got scholarship and it still wasn’t enough. Because I had to work so much to go to school, I missed out on career-building internships and opportunities that would have significantly helped my career, including a summer internship with a national magazine in NYC. Because I couldn’t work for free, my career suffered, and is still suffering many years later. I also had to drop out of school because I could no longer handle the stress and I was too broke to pay for the next semester. I couldn’t go back for another 4 years, and even then graduated with 40k in debt, a crushing amount considering once again, that entry level opportunities don’t pay. So yes, paying for my child’s education is a priority, because I don’t want them to miss out on the opportunities I missed.

  8. SnoopyCool says:

    I was able to attain paid internships, which is a possibility in many professions.

  9. Debra says:

    I don’t want to go broke providing for my kids’s education. At the same time, I’m quite aware of just how fortunate I was to have my entire college education (3 degrees) paid for by scholarship. My parents didn’t take much out of their pockets but I graduated without one cent in student loans. I would love to have my children be able to say the same in 20 years.

  10. Marianne says:

    For many majors, community college is a great way to start. However, there are some where the networking of college is necessary. Going broke or being saddled with unreasonable loans is unwise, but the options need to be weighed with the outcome.

  11. Hilary says:

    Some of the top schools have no-loan financial aid packages (i.e. you basically pay less if you can’t afford it). Harvard was the first school to do this, and it is sort of trickling down to other academic institutions. They don’t want their alums saddled with debt any more than we do. I realize this won’t be an option for many students because of the stellar GPAs, etc. required, but please don’t discourage your kids from dreaming big because of finances.

  12. Miranda says:

    My parents paid for room and board, and my car’s insurance. I paid for tuition, “fun”, and made my car payments. The fact that I knew that I would have to pay my tuition encouraged me to work for scholarships and to choose a school with a more reasonable price tag. I also worked part time. I don’t think that parents have to pay for EVERYTHING. And I certainly think that it is a good idea for college students to pay for some of their education.

    Another consideration is that a 4-year degree isn’t for everyone. I think the key is to encourage education in the way of developing some sort of useful skill or trade, even if it is not a college-type skill. There are plenty of trades and skills out there that can be learned through 2 year and 4 year votech programs and apprenticeships.

  13. Cindy M says:

    I think it’s a given that you truly do not appreciate what you do not have to work for in this life. No, mom and dad should not have to foot the entire bill for junior’s college education, have kids learn how money works from the time they’re young. I notice a lot of many wimpy young guys in this country (several in my own family, unfortunately) whose parents busted their humps to put junior through school. Nice degrees and no desire to work, we don’t need more of this attitude. #5 says he wants Obama in office so we can “spread the wealth.” Really, and who’s gonna pay for that??? That’s the bottom line. Who’s gonna pay?

  14. Heidi says:

    I sense some sarcasm in the #5 response… at least I hope so…

  15. Gail says:

    Most families can’t afford to send their children to college, yet many financial magazines, and other media guilt parents into thinking it is their responsibility. I worked my way through college in the 70’s and I expected my children to do what they could. Son #1 didn’t want to go to college initially especially if he had to pay for it. Now years later he is taking several courses a semester while working to supoort himself and wife and taking on student loans to pay for it. Son #2 when to a technical school and is paying that off himself while he works full time. I know they would love it if someone would swoop on down to pay off those loans, but I don’t have the finances to do it and never have had so it is a moot point.

    Poster #16 seems to imply that if you choose to have a child that you need to support them for life–phooey. The best thing a parent can do is raise their child to be self-sufficient by the time they graduate high school and for sure by they time they are 21. I have been self-supporting since age 17 and am better for it than thinking my parents would give me handouts all my life.

  16. max says:

    Great post.People do not realize that education is the best investment…:)

  17. gina says:

    You would be amazed at some of the dumbasses that attend ‘prestigious and highly competitive universities’. Some can’t construct a complete sentence. I can’t imagine what their parents are paying for them to party on long after high school. Soon, everyone will expect an $80.000.00/year salary to turn a widget on the assembly line.

    Thank God we still have people who didn’t go to college, but are fine skilled tradesmen.

    It’s still possible to earn a good living at something you enjoy without the almighty four-year degree if you are bright and hard-working.

  18. latisha says:

    Normally don

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