One of the most enduring images that I recall from college was a video clip of an obviously drunk student at a football game and holding up a sign which read, “I don’t care. Daddy’s paying.” At the time, although my parents had paid for my tuition, I was working about 20 hours per work to cover my costs of school attendance – roughly $15,000 per year, as compared to the approximately $8,000 per year that my parents paid for my tuition.
I worked hard to pay for my car (a used car), car insurance, gasoline, food, clothing, books, entertainment – everything that I wanted or needed that was not included in the price of tuition. I also worked hard to do well in school. For four years, it was a lot of work, but I never once felt that my parents should be paying more. Indeed, I always regretted that I could not pay my own way to college, and found it much more satisfying when I did pay all of my costs in graduate school – including rent and the $15,000 per year in tuition.
But back to the “Daddy’s paying” sign. Did the parents of the young woman who held up that sign really do her any favors by paying for her four year’s of binge drinking? I think not. So many people I have known have failed to invest sufficient effort in their college educations because they have not had a stake in it. You probably also know people who have felt that they could have achieved so much more in life if they had just tried harder in college – partied less, and studied more.
At some point, parents need to force their kids to stand on their own two feet. Of course, the process needs to happen gradually. I have known young adults who have been required to cover all of their costs through college, others who have covered some costs, and still others who have received a free ride courtesy of the their parents. In just about every case, the people who have had a personal financial stake in their college educations have also performed far more effectively in the class room and have enjoyed much greater success upon graduating from college.
I have also known parents who do not want to see their children saddled with tremendous debt upon graduating from college, so they have over-contributed to their kids college costs, without even realizing that the money intended for food and books has been spent on beer and concert tickets. The parents’ objectives were well-intended, but they failed to prepare the child-beneficiaries to face life in which we all have to work hard to pay bills – not just to play.
Whether they are attending Averett University or a junior college, I do not believe that kids should feel entitled to the college education that they want. Rather, parents should make sure that a child who works hard through high school will have the opportunity to attend a good college. My wife and I prepaid the tuition in the Florida public university system 9 years ago (for a total cost of about $13,000). Our kids can attend any Florida school that they want, as long as they are accepted, and their tuition will be covered. They will have to pay all of their other costs, and they have known that for a long time. One has been saving for the past five years. The other has nothing put away (despite my urging) and may have to work for a year before he goes off to college. That is his choice.
Parents can also help their kids look for scholarships and other sources of “free money” – a process that should begin when a child is a freshman in high school. In addition, parents should start their kids in an attainable savings program so that kids learn to put money away for when it is needed.
Parents should not, however, feel that it is their responsibility to cover every cost that a child faces in college. Parents need to make sure that their kids have some “skin in the game” or they will run the risk of seeing their children holding up “Daddy’s paying” signs at a football game, too!
What do you think? Are parents obligated to pay for their kids’ college educations? Should college students be required to pay some of their own costs? Does a parental “free ride” give students an advantage or a disadvantage?