Saturday, December 07, 2013

Why we aren't saving for our kids' college funds

As a mother of four young children (a child number that many people now-a-days think is a bit high when it comes to the pitter patter of little feet), I hear comments like this all the time:

"I would love to have more kids, but college is too expensive."

"We're not going on vacation because we're too busy saving for Junior's college education."

"Kids are so expensive. Have you seen the cost of a college education lately?"

So here's the truth in our family: We have four children. My husband is a doctor. And we will not be paying for them to attend college.

Let me be a little bit more specific. What I actually mean is that will not be paying their full tuition at a University of their choice without them contributing to the costs at all.


Firstly, and I know this is a little controversial, but my husband and I do not believe college is for everyone. We believe the importance of college is overrated. We think technical schools, on-the-job training, or military service can be just as beneficial to a person's long-term success as an adult ... depending on the aspirations of a particular child.

Secondly, we don't think that college costs are the responsibility of a parent. We both grew up in lower-middle class families. We never, at any point, thought that anyone was going to pay for us to go to college except ourselves.

John accepted a full college scholarship to the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute. Later, when he decided he wanted to go into medicine, he ran his own business while paying for himself to attend college. He then joined the Air Force to help pay for medical school.

I worked my tail off throughout high school to earn a college education through a full basketball scholarship.

But had we not received those scholarships, we would have taken out our own loans or attended community college while we worked hard, or sought out grants and scholarships of a different nature to fund our college education.

Our brothers and sisters were faced with the same obstacles and many did not receive full scholarships. They found partial scholarships, joined the military, or found other avenues to pay for their educations.

I recently read an article on MSN entitled "Why  Parents Shouldn't Pay For College."

The article summarized parental involvement with college education by saying that, "Students with skin in the game are likely to party less and achieve more, research finds."

"Even if you can afford to give your child a full ride," the author writes, "you probably shouldn't. Although working more than 20 hours a week boosts the chances a student will drop out, a less demanding part-time job can make your child more responsible and more aware of the costs involved in education."

She also suggests requiring your child to maintain a certain GPA. "It can't be a bluff," she said. "If your child's grades slip, you'll have to be ready to withdraw support or transfer them to another institution."

John and I have already decided that if we are financially able, we will help contribute to our child's college degree (or other schooling that they may choose). But the requirements from our child will be rigid and non-negotiable. For example, we might agree to pay the cost of a community college education,, but if they want to attend a state college, they can pay the difference. Or we may help them pay for school if they maintain a very high GPA that requires them to truly focus on their education.

However, attending college is not a given for them. And it isn't a given that we will be the ones to pay for it should they choose to attend.

P.S. We don't plan on buying our child a car either!


MtnGirl said...

I was raised in a middle class family and my folks paid for both of their kids (me and my sister) to go to college. I appreciated it but it probably would've meant more if I had been busting my butt to pay for and complete that degree. And I had to squeeze 4 years into 5 or 6 years for a bachelor's degree on dad's bill! Later I went on and got two graduate degrees that I paid for. Degrees that I feel were a waste of time and money! Yet one I had to get in order to get a specific job/career that I wanted. I think children today are given way too much without any form of having to earn or contribute to it! Heck I see kids in elementary school who have TVs in their bedrooms with a cell phone and a laptop?! I think parents should be on the same page and discuss what they can afford and what seems appropriate for their situation.

Now what will you do if one of your children goes to college, can't find a job and returns home with you - will they have to pay rent? Pay gor food? or can they sit at home and watch TV? Move out in a certain amount of time????

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Mtn girl, great questions at the end ... obviously, any family member can fall on hard times, however, it is my opinion that no family member should be free-loading off the family. Contributions can be made in many ways and as long as we aren't being taken advantage of, I am open to what my child needs. But I think free-loading is just not acceptable.

The Hulls said...

I completely agree! I worked through high school to save some money to help pay for college. My parents paid my housing for my first year of college, but I was responsible for everything else. I worked part time, and relied on scholarships and loans to pay for my education, and I'm certian I'm more independent and responsible because of it!

Dana said...

We have four kiddos too and though I would have liked to be in a position to afford their college expenses we just have never been in a position to save that kind of money. So our kids have known from early on that it was within their grasp to make this happen and while they would always have our full emotional support financial support would be up to them. I am happy to say our oldest is a senior in high school this year and has already been accepted to all 8 schools he applied to and has earned over $350,00 in scholarships (all academic). It actually drives me crazy when people say to him "how lucky he is to be able to choose whatever school he wants." or "how lucky he was to be given the gift of being smart." There was no gift involved at all, just consistent hard work based on the expectations we had for him and all of our kids. For years people have said we had too high of expectations for our children but now that they are sitting on waiting lists and writing big checks this is all some miraculous gift! (Sorry for the rant!) I truly think too many kids are given things too freely and if we expected more of our children they would rise to the top all on their own!

Anonymous said...

Nice post Wendi. I remember well watching you balance a demanding basketball schedule - including very early mornings - and school when you had to make up for missing classes for away games. And watching John work hard at his own business at the same time.

I also think that putting myself through college, sometimes working two jobs, as hard as it was, taught me a lot. The obvious is the understanding of the work it takes to be successful and appreciating my degree.

But another really bit impact is that I notice that I hate to waste anything and always try to give things I don't need anymore to people who could really use it, rather than throw it away. I think back to the second hand furniture I was given during college or being able to do laundry at people's houses, etc. and how grateful I was for those things.

Now, living in an apartment in Europe, I am struck again by what a luxury some things are. We have a clothes dryer and a dishwasher. Many many people don't. Such things really are luxuries. As is eating out on a Wednesday night or living somewhere safe, etc. etc.

You no doubt are raising balanced kids who will be well supported (especially emotionally) but appreciate everything from how things grow to how much work that and everything else can be. And the satisfaction that comes from achieving it.

Take care,


jenicini said...

You know, we agree with you. My parents helped me pay for my undergrad that I supplemented my sports scholarship and work study. I went on to pay for two separate MAs which I use both of when I'm working. Hubby lived at home for undergrad and commuted to keep costs down and worked basically full time. He later did his MA through the military. We still have his GI Bill to use for one child and we will contribute to the other children's undergrad as we are able. However, they will also have GPA requirements and work throughout if it is something they want to do. However more important to me than college is for them to have a trade or a career path. I think our education system fails to provide a direction for many children who DO NOT need a college education for their future...and I'm an educator!

Rachel and Hans said...

I guess that we are in the minority here. Helping our kids financially get through college is a goal of ours. We are far from the kind of people that just give their kids everything . This just happens to be a personal goal/decision for us. Now depending on how many kids we have and how much it costs to go to school at that time, we will need to evaluate things. But we are starting now with savings for this reason.
And we don't plan on buying them a car, either! :).
Anyway...just sharing another view! There are a lot if different ways to do to hear everyone else's perspectives!

The Mac's House said...

I did work not only babysitting thru high school but also as a janitor with my dad at the local ski chalets during the winter and a maid at the hotel and since I was earning my own money my mother informed me that I should buy my own clothing so I was not surprised when it came time to go to college that there were no funds for me via my parents. I was fortunate to have an awesome guidance counselor who submitted all my paperwork as a special surprise for me and I received a scholarship. I did work thru college to pay for my lodging and food. I did not take any of it for granted nor did I from the age of 14 on when buying clothing or making it for myself.

Now fast forward to our daughter, I did put money away for her to go towards 2 years of school whether it be a community college or her a university. (the university would have cost much more so she opted for a community college) After the two years it was a given that she would have to work to further her education, for which she changed her major and community college.

I can understand both ways. My sisters are 10 & 17 years younger than myself and both of them were helped by my parents thru college.

While things were easier for them not to work like a dog thru high school or college, I have to say that working and do without A LOT was character building. :)

Lisa Cronk said...

Just another perspective on how our family does this... We have a kind of "pay it forward" type arrangement. My grandparents felt that after having had the benefit of education and working hard for many years, they were in more of a position financially to help their grandchildren with college expenses than were the next generation (who were young parents starting their careers and supporting their young family). My grandfather (secretly at first) set aside some money for each grandchild to be used for education (or other endeavors such as learning a trade, doing volunteer work, etc. if college was not the right thing for a particular child). We were all VERY blessed and grateful to our grandparents and would each choose a way to say "thank you" that was special or significant to our relationship with our grandparents. My grandfather was a pilot, loves Notre Dame football, and had season tickets to ND games for decades, so I saved up from my summer job and hired a plane with a banner saying thank you to fly over the stadium at one of the games! Anyway, my parents plan on doing the same for their grandchildren and I plan on doing the same for my grandchildren. We have just moved the college savings up a generation.

I agree that working your way through college gives you some incentive to do well, but I feel like since it was such an unexpected, but amazingly generous gift, we were each motivated by a desire to make our family (particularly our grandparents) proud and use the money well.

Also, while I see how working to put yourself through school is valuable, I disagree that you can necessarily manage tuition costs by working a 20 hour a week job. As you noted, if you work more, time for academics suffer. Tuition is becoming quite expensive to 4 year colleges (which you need for many careers that require a bachelor's degree - or to go on to do medical school or other graduate school), so I don't think that there are enough hours in a day, week, month, year to do everything. Even though JB worked really hard and made it through, not everybody can do that. I don't think I would have made it to being able to do the career I love without the help my grandparents provided.
Also, I'm not sure I would have been able to make it through my pre-med courses if my time for academics was significantly impacted by working a job during my undergraduate studies. I'm not as smart as JB...I needed all the time I could get to study my butt off! I was also able to participate in some volunteer and extracurricular activities that not only helped me grow as a person, but probably impacted my acceptance to medical school (where I got a scholarship).

Lisa Cronk said...

While I applaud your desire to make your kids stand on their own 2 feet...I think there is a balance to be found there. I would hate to have my hardworking, talented, intelligent adolescent not able to pursue a career or education they were really interested in and motivated to do just because they couldn't work enough part time jobs to earn tuition or they weren't good enough at a sport to get a scholarship (no matter how hard they worked at it).

Due to my financial stability, my kids would also be unable to get some of the financial aid to allow them to take out loans and finance their own education. So I'd be affecting them even more by having the money and not giving it to their tuition.

Anyway, just another perspective. I am certainly not a parent to give my kids everything. I will probably help them get a car (so I don't have to drive them all everywhere when they are old enough to drive), but like when I was a kid, they will pay for a portion of it and then continue to contribute payments, pay for their own gas, etc. They will be expected to work to earn spending money (I think allowance is silly). I just think that it makes more sense to pay for education when they have had the chance for that education to help them earn money. Their education will pay off later and then they can pay it forward to their grandbabies.

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

To Lisa and Rachel,

I actually do not disagree with what you are doing at all. But something tells me, because of the kind of people that you are, that the kids you will raise will "get" what they are given and use it accordingly.

We are not saying we will not help our kids with college. We very well may pay an entire tution for one that has worked hard and has the work ethic to use it wisely. However, we are just not making it a priority.

I actually do not disagree with the way you are doing it at all!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

P.S. Continuing from my above comment, I think that "requiring" my students to take out loans (or thinking they can make it work on a 20 hour work week) is not appropriate. HOwever, I do think that if they are putting in the money and time and understand what this college education means, they will take the money much more seriously.

And Rachel, RE: the car. We are actually hoping to do a "dollar for dollar" match on the car. If they save $1,000, they get a $2,000 car. Dave Ramsay has a whole thing on it.

Rachel and Hans said...

I think what Hans and I mean by not giving them a car is that they won't be handed the keys to a brand new car when they turn 16, just because they are 16. Most likely our kids will have a car to share at some point that will come with a set of rules and responsibilities. Yikes! Hard to even imagine that right now although I can kind of picture it since 'driving daddy's car' is one if thor's favorite activities! :)

Rachel and Hans said...

And I agree that working for something makes you appreciate it more! But I think there will be plenty of opportunities for that!
I can't believe I gave commented so much! It's neat to have a conversation about it...both you and Lisa have opinions that are respected by me!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Rachel, I totally respect you and Lisa's opinion and don't disagree at all, actually. You both make valid arguments. Especially about the fact that because of our income levels, our kids are punished when it comes to money they receive.

I think one thing I was more bugged by was that people seemed to let college costs keep them from having kids ... I just don't think that paying for college IS MY JOB. If I can, I think that is fine but I really think that our view has shifted from it being the responsibility of the child to it BEING the parents' repsonsibility and I don't think that is true.

I think as far as vehicles, similar arguments can emerge. If they need a car for a job to work etc. But I think kids driving these luxury vehicles is ridiculous. I love hearing from you ...

And love seeing what YOU are passionate about!

Rachel and Hans said...

Yep!! Totally agree with everything you just said! I guess we could have just emailed like we usually do, lol! But now everyone got to see our convo and maybe learn something!

Jill Brouhard said...

Wendy - my neice posted this on her FB page and I certainly agree with you. Both my husband and I had to pay for most of our college educations back in the day. We didn't want our kids to be quite as burdened, but wisely, didn't make it a free lunch. Because there is no such thing and we wanted them to know that too. We paid tuition - they all had to contribute to room and board if they chose to go away instead of stay at home and attend college close by. Beyond their bachelors they all paid for post grad education and got their Masters and on has a PhD debt free. It is possible! And, as you point out - preferable. The sooner you learn to be self relient the sooner you will have th ability to help others - which is really what we're called to do.
Blessings to you and your family

MtnGirl said...

Another consideration is not every child is cut out for or even wants to go to college! And some children should work a year or two before they'd decide on what they want to do with their lives. It has been a long time since I was in high school but there was very little guidance about what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there! One last thing, I think too many parents expect their kids to go to college and that might not be the right thing for them - no reflection on how the parents did their job!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

MtnGirl, I completely AGREE!!!! I mentioned this in the piece. College is NOT for everyone -- esp. at 18!

Blessed Blackman Bunch said...

Great read. I think Ryan & I will partially pay for our children to attend college but like you we aren't "sold" on college being for everyone. I know at one time Ryan said our children didn't need to work while in college b/c their grades would be their job. Not sure he feels the same way after earning his degree after marriage w/some GI benefits and now in Chiro school, some VA benefits. I DO know that we are not currently saving for college. I also know that our children will not have an inheritance. They know this as well and they are only 12 & 13! We want to enjoy our money w/them now, while we are all alive & healthily. The COOLEST part, our children agree. What's a big amount of $ after someone is gone? Enjoy the parks, trips, etc. now!!!

Blessed Blackman Bunch said...

Oh & no one paid for ANY of my college degree but ME!