Why Parents Shouldn’t Pay Entirely For College

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?

This entry was posted in Education, Personal Finance, Relationships and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Why Parents Shouldn’t Pay Entirely For College

  1. Luke says:

    Well seeing a drunk student at a college football game doesn’t mean that she spent 4 years binge drinking. It’s sort of part of the experience. I went to University of Tennessee and I got to go to a few of the best football games. And boy did we drink. But I didn’t spend 4 years binge drinking, but I was also smart enough not to put a sign up on tv, also. It’s parents choice…if they have the money an decide to pay for school…good for them! My parents, however, didn’t have the money to pay…they took out the loans but I paid them back. Thats the way it is in most of the real world I think, especially in this day and age.

  2. Dave says:

    I never drank in high school, because of strict parents. When I got to college (which was completely paid for by those same strict parents) I discovered alcohol and spent many nights partying and, quite frankly, getting it out of my system. Thankfully, I survived, got good grades and now hardly drink at all (I think I have 1 beer in my fridge).

    Today, I have a highly successful career, drive a company car, have a new Porsche in my garage, a great wife (who does not need to work) and a beautiful child. I am worth millions (not bragging, but it’s true) and it is all because I applied myself in college. There is no way I could have paid for any of it on my own back then and now I am talking with my alma mater about setting up a scholarship foundation for them in my name.

    Bottom line: A college education does not guarantee success in life, but not having one almost always guarantees failure. It’s 2009 and there is absolutely no excuse for not making great money, getting paid for something that you love to do. Having a solid college education will pave the way to making this a reality.

  3. Ann says:

    I considered myself very lucky that my parents paid for my college tuition and books. However… I was clearly told that I had to pay for my car, gas, entertainment and anything else! I quickly learned that, if I wanted a dress for a special get together or a nice dinner out when the cafeteria was closed Sunday evenings or have the convenience of a car, I had to work for it.

    When I saw friends with student loans or who had to work a lot during the school year (I was able to earn enough during summers), I thanked my parents and considered myself lucky. Their paying also gave me the opportunity to pursue a degree in something I loved… though I recommended to other people to pursue a double degree, if what they loved was in the arts. LOL

    I had to pay (though I had some help from the companies I worked for) for my pursuit of my CPA and my masters… while working full-time (and not just 40 hours per week!). I grew to appreciate companies with programs to assist employees in furthering their goals and recommended that my staff take advantage of that.

    Parents paying for college education is not a “right” but something to be eternally grateful for. A certain amount of respect for that opportunity should prevail.

    Don’t get me wrong! I did my fair share of partying, but it was expected and I made sure that my grades were at least in line with expectations. Can’t believe that person with that sign — that’s just plain ignorant and rude.

  4. SaveBuyLive says:

    I think that this is a really complicated issue.

    Start with the premise that ON AVERAGE without a college degree your child is unlikely to ever hold a decent job. This puts you in a tough spot. Most kids aren’t really mature enough to understand the importance of a college education until sometime after they’ve graduated. Yet, having one is critical to their future. This suggests that parents are morally obligated to pay for college. At least the basics of tuition, room and board.

    It’s nice to criticize all the people who are drunk at football games but too often we forget that that old saying about all work and no play.

  5. I can only speak from the experience of those around me, but so are you.

    Both my fiance and myself didn’t have to pay for college. We both worked, but it wasn’t entirely necessary. We don’t have any loans to pay off and are two of the most financially responsible people I know.

    We both have friends that needed loans and scholarships to get through school. These people use the money to buy nicer cars, clothes, and nice trips for spring break. Having to pay for college didn’t teach them a darned thing.

    We even have friends the didn’t have to pay for college are are stupid with money, and friends that did have to pay for college that are good with money.

    I’m touching on all four corners and there is no distinction to be made. Fiscal responsibility is born before college, if you don’t go in with the right habits you won’t come out with them. College is not the catalyst.

  6. Joan says:

    My kid gets by on tuition scholarship that also provides enough to a cover rent and food. We chip in for a car, insurance, utilities, gasoline. His school is in a small town where students cannot even expect to find much work. He works a few hours a week grading and also must do a certain amount of service work in connection with his scholarship. We are really pleased with how hard he works on tough academics and how frugal he is. We see his education as his job now and are pleased to see he highly values it and how dedicatedly he works at it….And I am so grateful to be in the position to help him. I feel that he does not squander the help and opportunity one iota.

  7. Myrna Garren says:

    I have never expected my parents to pay any school expenses past the age of 18, and I have not paid for of my daughters education. My daughter at age 33 has about 2 years to get her nursing degree. I don’t think it is a parents moral obligation either. There are enough scholarships and grants for a good student that a person can graduate if they desire.

  8. Kat says:

    I have to agree with the weakonomist–if we’re going by anecdotes only, you can find plenty of examples of frugal, financially sensible people who didn’t pay a dime for their own college (or sometimes even graduate school); students who paid their own way or took out massive loans who are not handling their debt/money wisely; students in the exact opposite situations and everything in between. It’d be interesting to see a study done with statistics on this (maybe there has been?) but in this area, I don’t think those numbers would indicate any more or less than a trend. Paying for their own education doesn’t automatically make students any money-savvier, even if it gives them a good reason to be.

    I’ll also fall into the camp of saying it’s a parent’s choice whether to pay or not pay for any part of their kids’ higher ed–and how much, and on what terms. As long as that’s all communicated to their children far enough in advance that their kids can start planning for it, I don’t see it as a problem either way.

  9. Monkey Mama says:

    My answer is, “It Depends on the Situation.” My best friend got a free car and a free ride through college. But she was one of the few who didn’t take it for granted. She didn’t work, but her degree would have made it difficult to work during school. (Summers are another story, but her parents simply did not want her to work). She is the most financially responsible person I know.

    I guess I Cringe when parents say, “My kids will have to do x, y and Z, because it’s what I wish my college experience was like.” Fact is, everyone is different.

    I paid for my own college (most of it) but I have the most supportive parents of just about anyone I know. People confuse not getting a free ride with “unsupportive” parents all the time, which drives me nuts. My situation was the best for ME. & my parents realized this.

    My spouse had a free ride for college and lived at home, but he worked and saved tons. That being said, he has problems functioning in the real world. He has literally never been in a position but to bank his entire paycheck. He moved from his parent’s home to living with me post college. He has never been on his own. I do NOT want that for my children. He is great with money overall, but he has never lived in the “real world” so to speak.

    My MIL told me the other day, as nice as possible, that she thought my parents sucked for not paying for my college. It’s like, “Great for you. I don’t think it sucked. My opinion is probably what matters most.” I feel a great deal of pride for what I Accomplished with the support of my parents. My grandparents were completely unable to help them with hand-me-downs and loans. Or any financial support whatsoever. The simplest things means to much to me. They taught me to see my blessings. I have little patience for people who want to put my parents down. Anyway, MIL continued to tell me BIL took on massive student loans for school and how his parents are so bad with money. Okay, so his parents sucked. He has the same degree my spouse does so not sure why he spent 10 times as much on it. But, you know, doing it “on your own” or chipping in doesn’t always mean a terrible debt-laden experience.

  10. David G. Mitchell says:

    I think I may have mislead some of my readers. I am not suggesting that kids should pay all of the costs associated with college. I agree that avoiding college debt is a huge first step towards success. My question, however, is where should the line be drawn. For me, I want to be able to pay for the cost of tuition, room and board. I want my kids to pay for the costs of their books, clothing, automobile (if they choose to have one) and entertainment. Without the car cost factored in, I think those costs will amount to about $100 per week — an amount that I feel they should be able to save or earn during the summers. That said, it is also an amount that will make them feel that they have a stake in getting good grades and performing well. I am wondering where others might draw the line.

  11. Jackie says:

    When I first went to college, my tuition and part of my housing was covered by scholarships. My parents paid the rest and gave me $40/week of spending money (I already had a car that they bought me in HighSchool, an ’89 Tempo). So essentially we both paid for school, scholarships from my good grades were my contribution and they paid for the rest. I hated school and dropped out. I didn’t appreciate the money my parents put forth until I was on my own, working full-time.

    Fast forward to now, I went back to school and finished my BS finally, but now I have student loan debt. My parents still helped me financially from time to time, like one semester when I didn’t have enough money saved to both get textbooks and fix the brakes on my car. This second time I appreciated the help they occassionally gave me and the satisfaction of working while going to school. I was also extremely impatient with some of the school’s antics now that I was footing the bill, but that’s another story.

    From my own experience, I have to agree with weakonomist – “Fiscal responsibility is born before college…” My parents were always very frugal and set a great example, but never made us kids follow their example.

    I think that if parents can afford to help with college without hurting their own retirement then they should help. I also think they should set guidelines for minimum performance, they should make the kids work either p/t during school or f/t during the summer and should help their kids make good financial choices for their schools. Kids wanting to become social workers shouldn’t go into debt to the tune of $90,000 if they can get the same degree for $20,000 and have just as fine preparation.

  12. Lou Russo says:

    I’m of two minds on this issue. When I went to college (in the ’60’) my first two years, at a branch campus of Penn State, cost less than $400 per year. They were paid for by a small scholarship from my father’s union. I worked part time beginning in in freshman year. In my junior year, I transferred to the main campus of Penn State and my tuition and room and board were covered by student loans, which I paid back after I graduated (it too 5-8 years). My parents had little to give me, and I can’t remember them ever sending me more that $30 or $40 at a time. Needless to say, I lived frugally.

    When my kids were born, I began putting some money into US savings bonds as a means of getting a head start on their educations. I knew full well that I would never have enough to pay for their entire educations. Both of them wound up borrowing the maximum allowed in order to complete their payments. I would say my wife and I contributed about 1/2 of the costs, while the rest came from loans and jobs. We helped with cars and insurance, but rarely with cash for spending money.

    My son has paid off his loans, while my daughter, after a few financial missteps, is in the process of doing the same.

    I have also begun small 529 accounts for each of my 5 grandchildren to help defray some of the ever increasing costs.
    I just felt that what we did was the responsible thing to do, although I’m sure others would disagree.

  13. typome says:

    I don’t think college students’ dedication to their education falls on whether they have a free ride from their parents or not. It comes from many years of instilling a desire to learn within the child, coupled with the gratitude that the student hopefully has for his privileges.

    If I could, I would pay for my child’s education all the way. The fact that I plan to read to him or her every day, and nurture his or her gratitude, and imprint the excitement and importance of college early on will be a heavier factor on whether or not the child wants to blow off their college years.

  14. spicoli says:

    It all depends on the student. I would not throw money away on a student who consistently fails to perform but I would gladly pay what I could for a student who excelled. I would rather fund my child through school than face funding him when he drops out.

  15. persephone says:

    Parents should help when they can help. Kids should work when they can work without hurting their grades. College is a time for kids to prove that they are responsible adults and they do not need the burden of tuition, room or board costs, but I agree that they should work during the summers or the school year to cover incidental costs.

  16. kathy says:

    When I went to my one and only year of collge my parents paid for it. it was only about $4,000 for the year back in 1980. i commuted to college. the next year i applied for a government grant but was denied because my parents made too much money. (both of my parents were high school drop-outs) My parents were not scholarship savy nor was I. Needless to say, i did not go back to college. Yes, my parents made too much but, not enough to send me back. I wish I would have had someone explain scholarships, student loans, etc. to me in more detail i was only 18 and so very young!!! my daughter will be entering college in the fall and we have been with her every step of the way as far the application process, scholarships, etc…..at the end of her 4 years she will have to pay loans of $15,000. we have helped her with the rest and she has scholarships also. so no, do not believe parents should pay for all of the college expenses.

  17. Meaghan says:

    Children should be responsible for some reasonable portion. They need to feel invested in order to make the most of the experience.

  18. Lynn M says:

    Good points. I think having the student be at least partially responsible for the cost is a good idea but if a parent does want to pay the whole bill some thing should be taken into consideration. If your parent is 100% financing your college education, then I think they should have some say on where you go and you don’t get to just choose a very expensive place to go because you like the location, the reputation, or because your friends are going there. You should also have shown a lot of responsibility on your own. Like having taken on employment during high school or during summer breaks and having been responsible with your money. Showing that you are capable of making good decisions is also an important factor. If these things can’t be said about you, then why on earth would your parents pay your way. Your prospects in college do not look good. While you might not have to pay for college, it is good if you’ve at least earned the opportunity to be there.

  19. Jessica says:

    Parents shouldn’t feel like it’s their responsibility to pay for their child’s tuition. Once you hit 18 and move out of the house you need take responsibility for yourself. My parents paid my first semester’s tuition and I never attended class and flunked half of them. I even told my dad ‘what do I care, I’m not paying for it.’ I was a brat when he paid for it. I paid the rest of it (along with my own cost-of-living) and took pride in it all. I even landed a great paying job after college because I was told by the interviewer they have more respect for students who pay for their own tuition. It showed them I thought education was so important that I would do what I needed to to get it.

    I learned a lot about taking care of myself and not burying my nose in the sand (or in beer) and having others take care of my responsibilities. My friends who had everything taken care of for them have no idea what it’s like in the real world and how to handle difficult financial times. Everything was always taken care of for them. Money came to them when they needed it without worry. Now their idea of handling difficult times financially is going to Florida instead of Mexico and expect it all to be fixed for them while on vacation. Then wonder why credit card balances keep going up and they have nothing in savings.

    If parents want to help their children that’s wonderful, but you should be responsible for paying 50% of your own tuition and not rely on mom and dad to cover all your costs. Students miss on a great life lesson by being naive to the real world when expenses are 100% covered for them.

  20. SD says:

    My husband and I will pay for our two children’s entire college experience. Room, board, books, spending, etc. I don’t want the cost of a particular school to even be a consideration for them when they are applying. This is what my parents did for me, and what my husband’s parents did for him. If they go to graduate school and we can afford it, we will pay for that, too. These are my children, and they will face enough debt when they buy houses, cars, etc. I can’t imagine making them pay for college. I would no sooner do that than I would charge them for the food they eat in our house now. If we do not have the money to pay it all upfront, then we’ll make their student loan payments later.
    I do not, however, think that parents should jeopardize their financial futures to pay for their children’s educations. My girls are years away from college, but we started planning for their college educations before our first was even born.
    I don’t care what other people do – what is so irritating to me is people who generalize (I mean in general, not specific to the comments here)…worry about your own children, and I will worry about mine.

  21. Elena Dimitrov says:

    I’m a mother of a PHD graduated. No job, no money, no hope. My kid is suicidal, I’m sick. How will my kid pay the loan, she is having health problem which keeps her away from physical work. We are getting bank’s bills. What to do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *