It’s not that you owe your kid a fashionable coat…it’s that you owe her a warm one. Right? Anything beyond that’s a choice, not an obligation.
Being the da-da of a fourteen year-old sentient ape, a female, I think the same’s true for education. You don’t owe your kid college…you owe her a good start in life. Assuming the two are the same thing might be more harmful than helpful to both of you.
Give a guy a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you’ll feed him for his entire life.1
But teach him how to learn and you’ll never see him again. He won’t be dependent on you. He’ll know that Google is a thing, that educational videos are things, that books are things, etc. And presently he’ll be a teacher, not a student.
So the ability to self-program is one of the best starts kids can get—maybe THE best start—and we may or may not need to send them college to learn it. But if you’re convinced that it is, I ain’t a-gonna judge yez. I’m just saying the process of…continuous quality improvement?…makes it prudent to review and revise your plans as you go. I hope you’ll take into consideration, then, my ideas about the meaning of a “good start.”
A successful career isn’t the same as a successful life.
Self-evident. We’ve all heard about the guy who’s miserable in a high-paying job. Let’s not make the mistake of teaching our kids that money equals success in life—and to avoid doing so, we can’t just tell them. We have to show by example, which can require major, and uncomfortable, adjustments.
It’s only been one generation since college became perceived as the gateway to success.
If you’re the parent of a college-age kid I’m guessing you’re GenX. If you went to college yourself, there’s a good bet it wasn’t from absolute necessity but because of cultural conditioning from baby boomers.
It’s highly likely the parents of baby boomers experienced the Great Depression; a watershed event in the perception of higher education. My grandfather, for instance, quit school in tenth grade, started as a farmhand, taught himself to read blueprints and pour concrete, worked in the post-war reconstruction of Japan, joined a union, and traveled the country from job to job. He saved until he could start a small business, and lived on its proceeds until he died.
While he believed in hard work, he and many in his generation came to define a “good job” as one that wasn’t so hardscrabble. College was the road to the middle class. They taught that to their children, who passed it on to you.
What’s been diminished, then, is the idea that the gateway to a “better life” is ability and not pedigree. When hiring a candidate for a sales position, would you rather find a recent college grad with a degree in sales, or a candidate with a ten-year track record but no college on his resume? You’d of course like both, but there’s a lot of institutional bias toward higher education—especially in entry-level positions a ten-year veteran might nonetheless want to take.
We need to re-think that.
Sending your kids to college requires them to submit themselves to unreasonable strictures imposed on them by the university system.
Don’t get me started on the nanny state, especially the required freshman dorm-dwelling. Last I checked this was the United States of America, where we have some basic freedoms that ought not to be transgressed…including freedom of movement and the freedom to fail because nobody’s got you under a microscope.
The best way to deal with a sense of entitlement is to replace it with a sense of personal responsibility.
My friend’s daughter is an excellent dancer.
She expected my friend to pay for a degree in dance. He refused. That caused a LOT of friction, mainly because in a moment of utter cranialrectumitis he said, “I’m not paying for you to major in your hobby. You gotta have something to fall back on.” To which she replied, “How dare you assume I’m gonna fail?”
They compromised. He didn’t pay for a dance degree, but he did pay for one in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship while splitting with her the costs of ongoing private dance instruction. She’d thus be equipped to someday open her own studio. She got on board mainly since he said he’d be willing to invest in such a studio when she was ready–as long as she paid a return equal to the long-term S&P.
Worthy of frigging Solomon, I thought.
Not all kids can handle college.
Again, self-evident. Ask yourself: is your kid mature enough to leave a structured environment for one that’s much more self-directed?
By extension, are you willing to face the risk of paying for your kid to skip class, drink beer, chase after shall we say “romance,” and eventually flunk out? If you think that risk’s too high, you’ve got a good candidate for the military on your hands. Service is highly honorable, after all, and the military’s damned skilled at teaching discipline.
Furthermore, if my daughter gets to be college age and I think she’s too irresponsible to go, THAT’S ON ME. I’ve failed to give her what’s clearly a vital part of a good start. I have to own it. So how would I deal with it? I don’t know…but if it works out that way, hopefully it won’t be too late to remedy the the situation, or ideally help her find the remedy herself.
If you’re carrying credit card debt or any other debt above student loan rates, paying tuition is a terrible economic inefficiency.
If you fall into GenX’s “typical debt” range, you already know that you’re essentially borrowing from your credit cards at 18% or whatever only to pay it right back out to your mortgage, car loan, etc.—all of which (should!) carry rates of much less than your credit card’s.
Where’s the sense in that?
True, it’s likely that you owe less than $10K on your credit cards…but how long have you been carrying that balance? Are you merely rolling it forward? The intention, then, to pay for your kid’s college can be a serious inefficiency in your financial dealings.
What’s true in that situation is also true for student loans, which you can find at, what, 6-12%?
So get yourself out of all debt above student loan rates before you pay tuition. If this means your kid has to take out loans on her own, make it so, and then help them pay the loans off after-the-fact if you’re dead set on sending them into the world debt-free. And in the end if it works out so they have to pay most of their student loans off themselves…so be it.
Many of us will have to balance taking care of our kids against taking care of our parents.
I’m perhaps atypical in that my parents and my wife’s parents are financially secure. Military pension, government pension, insurance company pension, a mom who enjoys the hell out of her job and at age 69 refuses to quit. But ask yourself: are you realistically gonna be able to support your parents in their old age AND pay for your kid’s college?
Because that’s the same dilemma your kids’ll have if you can’t fund your own retirement, which is statistically quite likely. And even though your kid will likewise have to fund her OWN retirement, carrying student debt will mean she’s missing out on compound interest at the time when it’s most advantageous. That’s to your mutual detriment.
Which begs the question: is that’s what best for your family? Your entire family? So if you choose to pay for your kid’s college and you end up having to take care of your parents, how much will be left over for them? Never mind you?
To wit: if you pay for your kid’s college you can forget about ever retiring yourself.
A common thought is: “By paying for college I’m only postponing my retirement, not forsaking it altogether.” But Generation X, after all, is screwed for retirement savings. We tend to be consumption spenders, to have only five figures socked away, and to be financially overextended…all of which has contributed to the widespread belief that we’ll be working until we drop.
Blah, blah, blah.
I’m sitting here at some bastardly early-morning-before-school hour in a Leatherette® chair at my daughter’s thrice-weekly physical training session. This chair has become my writing studio. It’s a great place from whence to work because it’s far too uncomfortable for sleeping, meaning whoever picked it did so because it encourages upright posture and therefore a healthy back. Physical trainers are saintly in their wickedness. They do NOTHING without reason. Or pain.
Pain is why we’re here. Some months ago my daughter started complaining about her knee. We figured it was a growth spurt, but her pain got worse until one day she and I were out for a Pokéwalk2 and I realized she was limping slightly. I asked, “It looks like you’re really stiff today…your knee hurting that bad?”
She gave me a sad look. “I can’t run anymore, Daddy.”
Holy shit. So I had her at a sports medicine clinic inside of forty-eight hours, where they did an MRI and found that no, it wasn’t an IT band problem,3 but a inflammation of the plica: a weird little vestigial fold of synovial tissue behind the kneecap that, like the appendix, is one of God’s corny dad-jokes.
Five weeks of PT have since passed. Her knee’s getting better.
Now: taking your kid to the doctor when she’s ill isn’t exactly father-of-the-year stuff, but your quality of life takes a big hit when you don’t have healthy knees, and these early-morning PT sessions are one way of ensuring she has a healthy future.
On the subject of healthy futures: she’s unaware she has a college fund. When she was born my wife and I set up a 529 for her, the balance of which in the intervening fourteen years has tumesced4 to just over seventy grand. In four more years that seventy grand oughtta be enough for at least three months of the basic meal plan at a cheap in-state school. A nice boost, eh?
I don’t have to be here at her PT sessions, and I don’t have to contribute to her college expenses, either. The reason we haven’t told her her 529 exists is: we’ve explained how expensive college is and that she’ll have bust her petite little rumpus to get grants & scholarships. Thus far she’s doing it, although ninth grade is mighty early. So I don’t know, man…for that reason alone I feel like her 529’s a gift and not an obligation.
Well…whatever your decision about whether to pay for college, my advice is to use it as a life lesson; a character-building exercise. And maybe, just maybe, the lesson your kid needs is that grownups oughtta pay their own way, and doing so takes self-discipline.
In other words, a full ride is never a full ride.
In conclusion, to the blackest hole in hell with this beastly chair. The body’s an illusion: we’re beings of spirit. Good posture is therefore bad for one’s soul. So tomorrow morning I’ll be tying my hammock between the iron maiden and the Catherine wheel, and the outrage of the torturers in this place be damned.