Are parents obligated to pay college tuition for their kids to attend college? Should parents pay for college or should college students be responsible for paying college related expenses including tuition, with or without their parents help? The question of who pays for college continues to be a controversial (sometimes heated) debate between kids planning to attend college, and their parents.
Parents, are you responsible for paying your kids college education or not? If parents are supposed to pay for college, how much should parents pay towards tuition, books, housing costs, transportation, gas, insurance, food, clothing, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses for college? Where do parents draw the line between helping kids attend college and not jeopardizing their savings and retirement accounts? To say that your retirement plans are more important than your children’s college funds is putting it mildly.
The all too common belief some people have that it is somehow a parents obligation to pay for college, as if parents “owe” their kids a paid-for college education, reeks of unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement in today’s society. Parents who cannot afford to pay for their kids to attend college, or choose not to pay some or all college expenses for their own personal or financial reasons, are almost made out to be bad parents.
These parents are accused of not loving their kids, not wanting their children to be successful in life, and not worthy of being called parents amongst other things. Loving your children has nothing to do with who is going to pay for college, or a parent’s desire for their kids to become successful, independent adults. In an article entitled “don’t pay your children’s college education”, the writer aptly points out that paying for college is not about love, sacrifice or devotion towards kids. There is much more to it than that.
So, parents have to pay for college if they have the money, right? Wrong. “How am I going to pay for my college education if my parents won’t pay, can’t afford to help, or refuse to fill out the FAFSA?” is a common question.
Who Pays For College?
Opinions on why parents should pay for college vs. parents who should not pay for college vary, as expected. Even “personal finance experts” can’t seem to agree. Words like should, must, have to, obligation, responsibility and similar terms used by college-aged kids expecting their parents to pay for all college expenses with little or no “skin in the game” themselves is ludicrous. I have yet to find a parenting manual that states parents must pay for their child’s college education, whether parents can afford the costs or not.
Don’t get me wrong, education is important. Many parents already do what they can to ensure their kids get a great education until high school graduation. But, parents do not owe their children a college education. Parents paying for college is not a kids “right” to a free ride through college, but is a parents choice to decide whether to pay or not pay for any part of their kids higher education, how much, and on what terms.
You can take loans for college but not for retirement. Even financial expert Suze Orman says it is financially irresponsible and downright dangerous for parents to basically write a blank check from the bank of mom and dad to pay for their kids college education, or take out a second mortgage to pay for college. IF parents can afford to pay for college and choose to do so, then by all means pay for your child to go to college to whatever degree you are financially able to do so, without sacrificing your savings account or retirement account.
How to Pay For College
Planning ahead towards college costs with money set aside in a 529 plan for your kids education is a smart option for parents, if they choose to and can afford it. Parents can also help their children look for scholarships, federal grants, student loans and sources of “free money” for college. For those in Canada, similar to a 529 plan is an RESP, or Registered Education Savings Plan. It’s a tax-free savings account you can open up for your child and contribute money to until he or she attends post-secondary. Anyone can contribute; the lifetime limit is $50,000 per beneficiary.
Do not allow your children, or society in general, to guilt-trip or demand that you pay for your child’s college education if you cannot afford to pay or choose not to pay for your kids to go to college. It is entirely up to you, the parents.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I read this article suggesting the “federal government and the schools consider it the family’s primary responsibility to pay for the child’s education”, wrongly implying that parents are legally required to pay for college. Let the whining and moaning commence. Parents who have college-aged kids have already fulfilled their responsibility to their kids education throughout elementary, middle/intermediate and high school. The article about the federal government even suggests kids who have Christian or religious parents should hurl scripture quotes from the Bible at parents in order to manipulate or coerce parents into paying for college.
Should parents pay for college or should parents make kids find a job and work through college to help themselves get a great education? A parents legal and moral obligation to care and provide for their children ends when kids reach the age of 18 and they are considered to be adults in the U.S. While parents have an obligation to care for minor children and provide them the best education possible, parents are not obligated or responsible for adult children. Unfortunately, many parents continue to pay for and enable their grown kids anyway.
If you are a parent researching information on the advantages and disadvantages of paying for all or some of your kids college education, carefully consider and bookmark these devil’s advocate articles on who should pay for college, and who should not pay and how helping pay for college can lead to trouble. The decision is ultimately yours, so choose wisely, unless you don’t mind eating cat food in your elderly years. The book The Best Way to Save for College-A Complete Guide to 529 Plans by Joseph Hurley comes highly recommended by finance expert Suze Orman.