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Should You Pay For Your Child To Go To College?

By Erik Folgate

Answering the questions of “should I pay for my child to go to college?” is a daunting task, but it should always be dictated by your personal and financial situation. Did you set up a college savings fund for your child when they were a baby? Did you not save a dime for your child’s education? Are the grandparents going to help with paying for college? The answer to these questions will help determine where your child should be attending college and if you’ll be paying for it. The decision brings with it a lot of emotions on your part and the part of the child. Your child will have their mind made up about where they want to go, but if you’re paying for it, you have the final say. Here are a few things to consider.

Don’t feel bad about not paying for their college education

Going to college is not mandatory for every child, and if you can’t afford to pay for it, the responsibility is shifted to the “child” who is not so much a child anymore. In our society, it is so taboo to think that paying for our children’s higher education isn’t our responsibility. But seriously, you gave them a roof over their head for 18 years with a full stomach, and you gave them every opportunity to succeed in high school. Don’t go into debt to pay for your child’s higher education.

Don’t Let Your Child Make The Decision

Guide your child to making the right decision. Don’t tell them it’s not up to them, but rather, participate in the decision making process. Most seniors in high school look at prestige, where their friends are going, and location of the school as determining factors. They rarely think about whether or not they can afford the school they want to attend. If you’ve bene diligent in saving for your child’s education, don’t let them burn through all of the money in two years just because they wanted to attend a private school. If you have enough money saved to pay for the $40,000 a year, then go for it, but if not, look at other options.

Going to community college for two years isn’t the end of the world

Many seniors think of themselves as losers for going to community college the first two years, but I still wish that I had gone this route. I would have saved myself $12,000 if I had stayed at home the first two years. The college experience is great, and I have dozens of good friends from college that I still keep up with. Some of my most favorite memories were made at UF, but your child can still experience that their junior and senior year. The dirty little secret that many universities don’t tell you is that the core classes you’ll be taking your first two years are exactly the same as they are in community college. You really don’t start taking classes for your major until your junior and senior year.

Should I co-sign on a student loan for my child?

The answer is flat out, “NO”. Why would you co-sign for someone who is broke and will be broke for a few years after they get out of school? I know you want to help them, but it’s just too risky.

The bottom line is that you can’t go back and mend your mistakes of not saving for college by getting into a bunch of debt to pay for your child’s education now. If they choose to go to a school that they can’t afford against your wishes, then that is their choice.

Where I am coming from on this issue

I spent my first three semesters at Toccoa Falls College, a private, Christian college in Northeast Georgia. The tuition was about $4,500 a semester, and the room and board was another $2,500 per semester. My parents had nothing to give me, and my grandmother left me about $2,500 in a mutual fund. I could not afford this school, but I was too dumb to realize it, and no one told me not to go. They were excited that I was going to a Christian school and playing basketball, and so was I. About a year later, I saw the money flying out the door and the student loans I was accumulating. My credit card bill got bigger and bigger, because I wasn’t working enough to pay for books and other living expenses. So, I left Toccoa, went back home and started community college. Then, I moved to Gainesville, finished my A.A. at Santa Fe Community College, and I was immediately accepted into the University of Florida. On top of the florida scholarships and grants, I was getting money BACK from the school with all of my tuition and books paid for. I had already accumulated $12,000 in loans, but I had stopped the bleeding. Don’t let your child make a big mistake and end up with mounds of student loan debt. It’s not worth it for your undergraduate degree. Community colleges and state universities provide great educations. Be the voice to your child that I didn’t have when I was making my college decision.

Erik Folgate
Erik and his wife, Lindzee, live in Orlando, Florida with a baby boy on the way. Erik works as an account manager for a marketing company, and considers counseling friends, family and the readers of Money Crashers his personal ministry to others. Erik became passionate about personal finance and helping others make wise financial decisions after racking up over $20k in credit card and student loan debt within the first two years of college.

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  • Ethan

    A couple thoughts:
    The point you make about co-signing on loans is a huge one. The dept. of education, which is probably the one lending your child their student loans, is actually somewhat reasonable with borrowers compared to other lending agencies. If a student graduates and six months later doesn’t have th emeans to repay his loans, there are many options for forbarence, deferrment, or even cancellation in some cases. I’m sure if someone sees the student’s dad’s name on that note they will forebear no longer, and expect dad to pay up.
    Secondly, all I heard during college was that student loans were okay to use! Its like a mortgage, people would say. Its good debt. Well, I can tell you its not. A large portion of my student loan debt went to hiking trips and spear fishing trips! If your kids might have to take out student loans in any large amount, implore them to consider community college or a trade school!

  • angie

    I went to Toccoa Falls College and received an excellent education. And the fact is: after four years I got my undergraduate degree, and I walked away with a very small student loan (less than $2,000). How did I do it? I tapped into federal and state money through various grant programs. This is money that is available to those who apply and meet the requirements. Sure, I had to be tenacious in filling out the paper work, and I even changed my place of residence for a few years in order to get the full funding I needed. But the money was there. State colleges and universities are great options, but don’t write off private colleges for fear that you will end up in debt. If you are smart and savvy, you will uncover enough money for your undergraduate degree. Go for it!

  • http://bretfrohlich.com Bret

    My Mom, myself and all of my brothers and sisters are community college grads. Some went on to receive four-year degrees and others stuck with their two-year degrees. But, we all worked our way through college, paid our own way and graduated without loans. And, we have all become pretty sucessful in business or in our careers.

    I saved up college funds for both of my kids, so they could have the a chance to attend a university. But, they are both headed to community college and that is fine with me. I told my son to work his way through college and pay as he goes. Then, he can use is college fund for a down-payment on a house. Putting kids into massive debt is not doing them any favors.

    I think the key to success for young adults, is to become self-reliant in your college years, instead of becoming dependent on your parents.

  • http://savvyfrugality.blogspot.com SavvyFrugality

    Good points. When my son was still in high school, I told him I would help where I could, but that he should get a part-time job and start stashing cash for college. I explained that he could always get grants and loans to go to college, but I can’t get grants and loans to pay for my retirement.

  • author

    thanks everyone for the great, thoughtful comments. I think this is a great debate.

    @angie, i agree with you that you shouldn’t write off private college as an option if you are really sold on going there. You can make it happen if you are willing to put in the hard work to find free money, but that money is few and far between. My point about private colleges is that it’s not worth it if you plan on going into $80k in debt just for an undergrad degree.

    @ethan, yes, so many kids use student loans for living expenses, and often time, “non living” expenses, as you have realized.

  • bubbaRay

    i totally disagree with most of the posts. i went to a Big 12 (at the time SWC) school for a few years and tried to pay as i went, it didnt work. so i went to a local community college and took classes at night and worked at a feed lot during the day and that didnt work either. so i went to work for a couple of years busting cattle and realizing i was a worse cowboy than a student. at the age of 26 i was able to fill out my student loan applications by myself which allowed me not to include my parents income so i took the plunge and went to a local private university. i took out loans and received grants that paid both my tuition and expenses (including dorm) for $26k yearly. upon graduation three years later i was near $70k in debt and went to law school. three years at a top tier 1 law school and expenses put me in debt combined with my undergrad of nearly $300,000. straight out of school i recieved a job with a top 8 law firm thanks to the opportunity to be on law review and not try to hassle with making a dollar. i have now been out of school for 9 years and only have a few more months to repay my student loans, if it wasnt for those loans i would still be living in a podunk west texas cow town, would not have the opportunity for my children to go to the best private schools in new york, and would more than likely not be stuck here at the atlanta airport waiting for a flight. why? i could never have afforded to take the kids to disney land at the last second just because we saw a tv commercial.

    • Jeff

      Totally awesome! I’m very happy for you and your success. One small point. Do you think every person out there would be as successful as you? I’m 40yo, and have a lot of life experience. Yes, thank God I’ve been successful, though not as much as you. I just don’t see the average person doing what you did. Erik’s advice, IMHO, seems much more realistic for the average person. Again, I congratulate you on you accomplishments, but I also consider them to be far right on the bell curve of success.

    • Dan

      Good for you! Too many kids these days use college as a “free ticket” to a job. Hate to say it, but spending four years on a Communications major isn’t going to make you the $60,000 starting salary you’re looking for, kiddos. Hell, even an economics or engineering major likely won’t make that much. People need to be realistic and see college as an investment, not a time to “find oneself”. I may sound pessimistic, but I’ll be damned if my kids are going to spend $100,000+ on a Women’s Studies Major.

  • Kris

    Another thought… the military. Our son joined the Air Force for 4 years, managed to buy and pay off a new car, obtain the things he wanted in terms of electronics, etc… and managed to finish 1 year of college basics through the community college of the airforce. between the money we saved, the florida scholarships, the military gi bill, he began college full time, with only having to work part time in the air force reserves for extra money. at 25 he is set to graduate this year with zero debt. We still have several thousand dollars left over from his college fund that we will end up giving to him when he graduates because we feel that at 25 years old, he has made such sound choices in terms of money and career, that he deserves it.

  • Jane

    Thanks a lot for your wise suggestions. We have gone into very deep debt with our daughter for her addiction treatment, and had to take out her college fund to pay some of the super expensive programs. She is admitted into a few universities and was asking us to help her financially. She is still actively using. We worry we will get ourselves into more debts by consigning her student loan. Thanks for your advice. Now I know our answer shall be no.

  • Rick

    I’ll happily be finishing my undergraduate degree with $0 in debt. My Master’s may be a different story, but the job I want requires one.

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