Paying For College – Should Parents Pay For College Tuition?

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.

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46 Responses to “Paying For College – Should Parents Pay For College Tuition?”

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  1. Criminal Justice Student says:

    Well, all I have to say is I agree that a student having at least a small part in paying their tutition will allow them to appreciate the investment more and cause them to never throw it away. However everyone has a different situtation. I am the first in my family to pursue a higher education. I work full time because I knew that nothing was going to be handed over to me in my life. I pay for my own car, health insurance, car insurance, excise taxes and on top of all this I pay for my education.

    I am mature and I always was. I am studying to become a prosecutor. I wish my parents could help with some of my tuition debt, but honestly how could they understand when they didn’t do nothing? Now I know my mom would help if she could. She didn’t marry my father and her husband passed away leaving us in a down fall. However my father has one child and has not coughed up a dime yet to help me with college. Well you know what that’s okay. At least I know I took care of myself and I won’t end up like him. My GPA is 3.48 one more semester to go and then I am going to study for the LSAT. I did receive some scholarship money but at a private college it is not nearly enough. If only I could get some help from Oprah.

  2. Megan says:

    I’m a high school senior this fall. Currently I don’t have a dime saved in my college fund. Who cares? Yes I plan on going to college, but God forbid I might have to work a part-time job while going to school and apply for financial aid. Why should my parents have to pick up the tab?

  3. Maria says:

    I read almost all of this message board and I am amused as well applaud the comments. Here is were I guess I weigh in. I married when I was only 21 and had a child by the time I was 22 divorced at age 27 with a 5 year old. With only a high school degree (back then) I was able to get a job in banking and grew with the company making a comfortable income. I have NEVER expected my parents to help me for education past high school… my parents taught me more about life expectations and how to handle tough times. I learned goals and basic life stuff and when I needed assistance they were there for me more than just tuition. I reapeat THEY WERE THERE FOR ME! I landed on my own two feet with a great job condo and car all purchased by me. Oh and I did not get any spousal or support from my divorce only a small anount of child support, I stress SMALL. After being on my own until my son was 14 I married a man that had three children of whom he was raising on his own. He was financially blessed and his kids have this expectation that he WILL PAY for their college and life in general. My son on the other hand, is 26 and will graduate in May with his MASTERS… he got (dare I say) school loans… where I HELPED HIM he is doing it on his own and works to help support what his loans do not cover. I helped him with financial assistance when I felt he needed it not asking for it (a mothers intuition) other than that HE KNOWS I love him, and in turn HE ADORES ME… how do I know, ’cause he TELLS ME! I don’t make money the way I used to, due to this market, but thru it all my son learned from me the way I learned from my parents. If I expected to get my parents to pay for college, they would not have the money to pay for unexpected medical bills as my mother is now in poor health. If we don’t teach our children that life comes with both ease and hardship then they (not saying all) but most will be shocked when they get out of the “nest” at age 18, 26, or?? and no matter the education they have will sink and not know how to swim. PS my husbands oldest MARRIED son still cries for help from Daddy… he took advantage of the funds “GIVEN” to him for school and never graduated, he is now married and at 27 is EXPECTING daddy to pay for him and his unemployed wife, he has pretty much successfully bullied his dad into it. The middle child is in school hopefully graduating with his BA in March, all expenses paid with daily phone calls of money needed (no part time job) and the third child dropped out of school (fully paid for) to come home to raise her child, alone, trying to go back to school still with expectations. REALLY? blameing that daddy needs to have saved but instead took too many vacations. come on people, we have bills and life expectations… I feel when children grow up and make their life decisions then they need to deal with that. I don’t agree that we are obligated to pay I do believe that we need to support and to assist but not PAY that is their life and their choices… trust me, I can certainly tell you now that if anything were to happen to their father and he would need help… they will say dad who? they are already doing it why would anything change if there were a financial obligation.

  4. Heather says:

    Students wouldn’t hold that expectation of parent’s paying for college if the federal government didn’t hold that expectation as well. When filing a FAFSA and being under the age of 25 you are considered a dependent student and your families income is used to calculate your need… even if you’re parents refuse to pay for college. Therefore, the government expects your family to contribute to your college education… whether they do or not.

    If FAFSA didn’t discriminate against people in this way, then maybe we wouldn’t have the expectation of our parents contributing to college.

    The bottom line is that a post secondary education should be free should you choose to pursue it. Educating your citizens does nothing but IMPROVE your country’s economy and social mobility. It is for the GOOD OF ALL to receive an education and become a contributing member of society. There are several European countries that offer post secondary education to their citizen for free… if they can do it I don’t see why we can’t either.

  5. Nightvid Cole says:

    There was once a time when it was possible to pay your way through college, but in the past 3-4 decades, US public college tuition has gone up 900% while wages only have gone up maybe 300% at most.

    Add to that the unemployment rate of nearly 50% for new high school grads, many employers cutting hours to below 40 to avoid giving health benefits, skyrocketing health insurance premiums, super-high city rents, and the poor quality of public transportation in many areas combined with the sky-high cost of owning a car (~$8k per year…), and it should become clear why this is such a pressing issue. Just because Gen X could reasonably work their way through college, does not make it anything but a laughable absurdity to expect Gen Y to do it too.