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Should Parents Pay For Children’s College Education?

Over the years that I have worked in higher education, I can honestly tell you that I have witnessed every level of parent involvement when it comes to footing the bill for college education expenses. Some of those situations are dictated by personal finances while others are a product of generational circumstance:  “I will do for my kids the same as my parents did for me”. Each situation is a little different but I think they can all be lumped into one of the following categories. Take a look and let me know what you think?

Student Pays All
While this situation is becoming more common it still appears to be one of the less common occurrences. In this scenario the student is covering all expenses through grants, scholarships, loans (federal and private) and of course any cash they have stowed away for a rainy day. They are receiving no benefit from their parents but probably still have to report their financial information on the FAFSA unless they are classified as an independent student.

Parent Pays All
In this scenario, after all the scholarship and grant programs are applied to the tuition bill, the parents pick up the remainder. Most parents in this situation usually cover the college expenses with discretionary income, college savings, or possibly a Parent PLUS loan.

While this may seem like a great situation for the student, my experience has shown that parents footing the entire costs of the college education usually have higher expectations of how their student performs inside and outside of the classroom. So, if you are a student in this situation you may want to think twice about bringing home your leather toting, tattoo covered, piercing artist of a boyfriend if you think it may impact your future college funding. However, if your parents are Gene Simmons or Steven Tyler, you may actually score some extra money to support your boyfriend’s up and coming garage band! 😉

Student Pays Some/Parent Pays Some

This is, by far, the most common situation you will encounter on a college campus. I have heard repeatedly from families that say they want the student “to have some skin in the game”. So, they end up splitting the costs with the student using some type of predetermined formula.

Some parents say that they will spend “X” amount of dollars each year and the rest is up to the student. Other families say that they will cover room and board but the student has to take care of tuition. I have known some parents to even attach grade performance to the level of funding they will provide.

Regardless of the funding methodology, I personally think this is probably one of the healthiest approaches to sharing in college costs.  This isn’t high school anymore. Lots of dollars are being spent and it is important that everyone involved be upholding their fair share of the process.

Graduate vs. Undergraduate Degree
I really can’t recall too many situations that resulted in a parent paying for graduate, law, or medical school. Most parents seem to be “ok” with funding the undergraduate degree but will defer any future education endeavors to the student’s checkbook.

I think this is the moment when some students really start to pave their own way. They understand that mom and dad are ”tapped out” and it is now time for them to spread their wings and begin maximizing all their options. These options could be employer paid tuition situations or they may find that being a teacher’s assistant at a prominent college is ok as long as their doctoral degree is paid.

What’s your Take?
So, what do you think when it comes to covering college expenses? Which of the scenarios above best matches your situation? Feel free to let us know what you think by sharing your opinion in the comment section below.

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3 Responses to “Should Parents Pay For Children’s College Education?”

  1. Tia says:

    Hi Doug – For me, my sister, and my brother, the situation was “student pays all.” My sister and I had a harder time with it, she more than me because I had some academic scholarships. We went to an expensive private school. 8 years later, my brother got some grants & some loans for his first year at UVA, and then got a full-ride the remainder of his undergrad due to a coveted Air Force ROTC scholarship.

    I wish we (my sister and I) had gone to state schools and tried ROTC. Even though I managed to get by with just federal aid (and she had to take out a couple private loans, too), the amount of loans we both ended up with was really quite astonishing for a bachelor’s degree. Both of us should have evaluated that a bit more.

    • Totally the same situation for me (Student Pays All). I made it through college utilizing the tuition benefit provided by my employers along the way. Fortunately, I graduated without having any college loans.

      I have met students benefiting from the ROTC scholarship and I must say that I was absolutely amazed at the tuition benefit they received. Your brother is definitely one of the lucky few.

  2. Bob says:

    If the student is gifted, then the parents should pay as much as possible. My spouse and I started out in life well below the poverty line. It was a struggle to finally become middle class.
    We continued to live a megar live style and was able to pay for our students BS in Science. Now we are continuing to pay for her Doctorate. She is a high achiever. She brings us happiness and joy. We do not desire a new car or anew house. Material things means nothing to my spouse or I.

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