While my kids were growing up, I was encouraged by my community (my bank, my school, my peers, my TV stations, my talk show hosts, my CPA, everyone) to save money for their college, which I never started as I was still paying off my own student loan. Maybe I’m a little old school but if I believe anything about college it is that college is an experience that develops a person and prepares them for the world.
What I like about money is that it is helps keep us comfortable and adventurous. With money, we don’t have to be tied down to our little plot of land to survive. I am also not a big fan of money. Seriously, have you watched this trend of money? It has caused marital strife, greed, layoffs, starving children, lack of care for mentally ill, abuse of our environment, and terrible motivation techniques for our youth.
So you can imagine my shock when I received notices from each of my children’s’ schools of choice, not to ask if I was interested in, but to warn me that the deadline to sign for the parent loans was fast approaching!
If you are currently paying for your child’s college, please note that I don’t think that doing so is wrong if you are helping. Consider why you are helping. Consider if you are helping.
I have a goal that both of my children will graduate from college, and in watching trends, I kind of secretly am pushing them toward doctorates. If they want to spend their lives doing things that they love, my kids will need doctorates. The thought of whether or not they are successful in terms of money makes me cringe. Money is not life, it is an invention.
Those that I know who are leading happy and successful lives without a college diploma have emphasized to me why I should not pay for my kids’ college. These people have all said that life would be easier if they had earned a college degree, not because they could make more money, but because employers look for college degrees. Being 20ish is about becoming an independent part of society. This is the time where one learns to push their limits, to experience consequences while unhindered by Mom and Dad’s security net, to speak up for themselves and say that they need help, to network possibilities, and learn the full impact independence. Those who I know who did not finish college or possibly even high school, and are doing well, learned all of these things without college. So why do we take this experience away if they do attend college?
I am not against helping our college students, but kids need to know that when they ask for help, they need to be prepared to show what they have done to accomplish the task on their own. They need to show the money (budget), that they followed the instructions of the financial department (managing bills and loans), that they are looking for and applying to scholarships and jobs (networking), they need to explain where and why they need the help (accepting consequences), what the alternative options are (being flexible, accepting consequences, accepting reality, not being greedy, and being resourceful), and show appreciation for help by not expecting it. This last part happens as they learn to expect that the chances of your help is 50/50.
The ultimate goal here is communication and community. When I don’t help my kids they know if the reason has to do with unexpected automobile repairs, a sibling’s need, their parents desire to be empty nesters, or their own lack of preparation. Kids need to learn that their needs have community effects and that they can revise their request for help. They should also learn that asking for help does attract more help than not asking.
You may be a single parent with a low income job, reading this and wondering how you can possibly do this. The beauty is that it has nothing to do with what you do. It has everything to do with what your kids do. Your job is to guide them through navigating adulthood. Help them find where to look for scholarships and where to go on campus for help (you can do this online, they can go to the office on their own). Talk with them about the problems they might face and give them some creative ideas. Acknowledge that you might be wrong as things have changed and are different from school to school.
My kids are both living at home this coming year. One of them discovered after reviewing her budget, upon receiving the third of four scholarships, realized that a loan would not need to be pulled at all. She pretty quickly started discussing what her crazy commute schedule would like.
If my daughter does not need a student loan, why should I pull a parent loan?
My son called us a couple of days later and started to share all the options he was facing for the next year of school. He had his financial aid package but his parents had made more money last year, so he was looking at less, he hadn’t succeeded in finding an in town job that he could reasonably get to, so he didn’t have many personal funds left, housing was cheaper if he added a long commute and lived with possibly unreliable people, and he was still having a hard time finding scholarships (white straight boy syndrome), and he told us that his financial aid package would increase if we applied for the parent loan and were declined which was more likely if we also signed for our daughter’s. Yea, we are not taking that hit on our credit.
After clarifying that we understood everything my son was saying, my husband suggested one other option and that was that our son could spend a year at our local community college where tuition was a lot cheaper. He could live at home where housing and board was free and he could find a part time job closer to his school or home. We expected that this idea would not fly, but the first thing my son said was something like “I could take chemistry at that school, which would help on my transcript for entering a Master program, and save money to return to this school next year.” (Another reason it is hard for him to find scholarships, his school and his ambitions are unique.)
Applying for a parent loan may have encouraged my son to accept that he would graduate without all of the knowledge he believes he needs. He would not have considered other options.
If I had spent my kids’ childhood saving for their education and topping it off with parent loans, then I estimate that I would have spent about 22 years paying for two Bachelor’s Degree (actually three, I just recently completed paying my own). Then what would I need to pay for next? A bachelor’s degree is our cultural symbol of independence and growth. A degree that says “Hey! Look at me! I’m ready for the world!” With the possible addition of “and I learned a lot about this subject but nothing about living.”