Last January I wrote about our oldest child leaving college, our youngest entering, and the financial changes that will bring.
(Quick update to that post: our son will attend Saint Louis University in the fall. That’s the school I was alluding to in the post and he did indeed choose it. Our daughter graduated with honors from the University of Kansas last week and is gainfully employed. (Happy dance.) She’ll be working as a producer for one of Kansas City’s local TV stations.)
A reader named Jon left a comment on that post asking the following:
Julie, I wanted to ask you a philosophical question after reading this post. Do you see paying for college as one of your responsibilities as a parent? By that I mean do you see it as your responsibility to ensure that your kids graduate from college debt free? My parents gave me tremendous support through school but as my wife and I think about becoming parents we are trying to determine what our role should be in paying for our future kids education. What are your thoughts?
That’s a great question, Jon. And I’ve been reading personal finance stuff long enough to know that people have strong feelings about this topic.
My short answer to Jon’s question is no, we don’t see it as one of our parental responsibilities to fully pay for college or ensure that our kids graduate debt-free.
And yet as parents we’re still paying for the bulk of college expenses and making it our goal for our kids to graduate debt-free.
So what gives?
The longer answer to Jon’s question would be that while we don’t consider it our responsibility, we’re in a position to help and we’re making it a priority.
If we were lacking the income, had more children, had no retirement savings, or were in a lot of debt, we may have decided otherwise.
I don’t mean it to sound like a slam dunk; we’re only halfway through this college journey as a family so it remains to be seen if we’ll meet that debt-free goal.
We also realize that an income – even a healthy one – isn’t the same thing as having savings in the bank. Incomes can wax and wane and disappear altogether, so having a fully funded college savings account would be preferable to cash flowing college like we’re (at least partly) doing.
We’d also like to be putting aside even more for retirement than we are (which means we’re only partly ignoring that don’t put paying for your kids’ college before saving for retirement rule).
But we feel secure enough to pay for a lot of our kids’ college, and we also expect our kids to do their part. They work and have scholarships (and making grades to keep those scholarships is part of the expectation too).
I don’t happen to think there’s any right or wrong answer to Jon’s question. But there’s one thing I do think parents owe their kids and that’s to talk with them about college – and their attitudes and expectations about paying for it – at least through the high school years if not before.
What are your thoughts on parents paying for college?
P.S. My daughter Lindsey and I wrote a post on the U.S. News site about this very topic: Should Parents Pay for College?