I have a really keen interest in finances, and I do a lot of reading on the subject, including newspaper and Internet articles, magazines, blogs, and books. One thing that always catches my attention is the issue of paying for your children's education. A lot of the time, when it's a parent or couple being interviewed about their financial plans and goals, they mention a college fund for their children. Parents that don't have one feel guilty. Others talk a lot about wanting to "be able to let their child go to any college they want to." Personally, I don't think parents should feel obliged to pay for their children's education, and I don't think that doing so really benefits the child/student either.
Now, of course, I don't have any experience with sending children to college (or children, for that matter), but I still have really strong opinions on this matter.
I went to Brigham Young University which is one of the most dirt-cheap colleges in the world. When I went, tuition was about $1600 a semester. My parents let me know as a child that when I attended college, I would be responsible for covering my own tuition and books, and they would pay my room and board. Fortunately, I got a full-tuition scholarship, so I only ended up paying a few hundred dollars a semester for books.
Here's why I'm opposed to parents paying all or most of their child's tuition:
1. I think that kids need to appreciate how expensive their education can be. The idea of providing for your child to go "anywhere they want" just doesn't seem very realistic. If they want to go to some exclusive private school, they should understand the difference between going there and going to a cheaper public university. And they probably should understand how that will set them back financially. Is it worth it to spend $120,000 to get a degree in English that won't be very valuable in helping you earn back that $120,000? (I'm definitely not bashing liberal arts degrees, seeing as I have one myself. But, if your life goal is to teach chemistry in high school, I just don't think that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that degree is a very worthwhile investment). If you're going to spend tons of money on schooling, it should probably be on a graduate degree that can really help your career, rather than on a degree that's a dime a dozen (and let's be honest, college degrees are not exactly scarcities these days).
2. I think you'll take your education more seriously when you're the one writing a big check each semester. In "Belles on their Toes," one of my favorite books ever, the children mention how, as they wrote their check each semester, they realized how great the expense was, and how they'd better get something for that money. I feel the same way. When I was buying my books each semester, I certainly didn't want them to become just dust collectors that lost half their value by the end of the semester.
3. It doesn't give your child a lot of motivation to graduate in a timely manner. If there's no additional personal cost to graduating within the standard four years, students are more likely to postpone graduating, getting a real job, and becoming completely independent. I graduated in three and a half years, so it was sort of irrelevant, but I certainly had no intentions of taking more than four years to graduate because my scholarship would have expired at that point and there was no way I was going to pay my own precious, precious money to stay for a fifth year.
4. Speaking of scholarships, if your parent is paying your tuition, there just isn't that same incentive to get a scholarship. I was thrilled beyond all reason when I got a scholarship because it meant that I didn't have to pay $15,000 of my own money. If someone else is footing the bill, I think it's far too easy to lose focus and to fritter and party away your college time rather than really devoting yourself to school. Also, I was bound and determined not to lose that scholarship because I wanted to keep my money, rather than pay it to BYU. If it had simply changed from the school paying for my education to my parents paying for my education, it just wouldn't have been that big a deal.
5. At the age where you have children in college, you'll probably need to be saving pretty seriously for retirement, and it won't help you or them if you spend all your excess money putting them through school.
6. The notion that "If we don't pay, our kid might not go to college" seems so preposterous to me. If your kid won't go to college unless you pay for it, you probably shouldn't be wasting your own money on that education since he obviously doesn't take it very seriously.
7. No one is entitled to anything. You may have the grades to get into Harvard, but real life may get in the way and that's just how things go. If it's going to take massive amounts of borrowing to get you to your dream school, but you don't know what you want to major in or what you want to do with your life, you may need to choose something more realistic. Dreams sometimes have to be altered in order to blend with reality. That's too bad, but it's a fact of life.
Well, there you have it: my personal opinions that you didn't know or care about. Now you know and don't care. And if you're paying for your child to go to college, that's very nice of you.