This week, The Simple Dollar attempts to address challenging questions in personal finance by looking at both sides of the story and figuring out some of the factors you need to look at to make a decision.
For many parents, it’s a given that they’ll save for their child’s college education, and they consider it almost negligent that you wouldn’t help your child with college and perhaps with their life afterward. On the other hand, other parents believe strongly in the philosophy of complete independence after high school, allowing their children to forge their own path with minimal or no support.
Which is right? Let’s look at both sides in a bit more detail.
The Argument For Support
College is a major financial burden for anyone. With incredibly high tuition costs, most students that get a post-secondary education will incur some level of debt – I know that my wife and I have, even after our scholarship support.
A parent’s responsibility is to help their child develop into a functional adult, and part of that responsibility is ensuring that they get a strong education. Sixty years ago, that might have been just getting them into high school, but today’s world is much different and for most students, college is a part of their education cycle.
Furthermore, it’s much more difficult to simply walk out of school and right into a job that you’re going to have your whole life. The average person today has eight jobs before they turn thirty two. That’s not stable, no matter how you cut it, and without a solid and consistent income, it’s incredibly hard to get a foothold.
The idea of cutting off your child at eighteen is completely outdated in the modern world. That philosophy does not reflect today’s challenges and leaves your child hung out to dry in a highly competitive world where no one is going to provide that great job right out of school that the parents of these young people might have had.
The Argument Against Support
In today’s world, independent and intelligent young people are the lifeblood of society. Resourcefulness and leadership skills are what makes a person a success in life, and holding your child’s hand all the way along does not build those skills – in fact, it stunts them.
If you have raised your child with the ability to solve problems and think for him/herself, then the challenge of figuring out how to pay for college (if that’s the choice he or she makes) and how to make a success for him or herself in life is one that your child can tackle on his or her own. The greatest tools you can give a child are the ability to reason and solve problems – and financial support just gives an easy solution to life’s challenges.
Furthermore, planning for that support requires that you take away resources that can help them develop today. Instead of socking money into that 529, you could send your child to an enriching summer camp, provide them spending money while they explore their interests in high school, and perhaps even pay for their tuition at a private school. This will give them the foundation to springboard to their dreams, not holding their hand until they approach thirty.
Giving your child a crutch through the early stages of adulthood does not teach them how to walk without that crutch. If you truly want your child to be able to stand up and walk on his or her own two feet after high school, then the time to invest in the child is well before then. Don’t wait around and invest in a college education – give your child the background and tools to succeed as early as you can.
I have 529 plans for both my daughter and my son that I fund every month. I fully intend for them to go to college, and I don’t want them to be burdened with the level of student loans that I’ve had to face. While I do feel that facing college without someone paying my tuition (just scholarships and student loans) taught me a lot, I don’t necessarily think that the burden was a good deal, overall.
However, if a great opportunity for their growth came along, I’d gladly stop funding the 529 and instead pay for that opportunity if I couldn’t pay for it out of pocket. I would far rather capitalize on a great opportunity in their high school years than contribute $500 or $1,000 to their college fund.
What’s your take?