Updated on September 10th, 2021
Many adults struggle with the question “should parents pay for college” in regards to their children. And, why wouldn’t they? Common convention often recommends adults with kids start saving for their future tuition needs, and some even forgo retirement planning to do it.
It’s not a surprise really. Parents often feel that their children’s needs should come first. Add to that the fact that their college years are often approaching faster than your retirement date, and you can see how these decisions are made.
But is that the right choice? Should parents pay for college? Or, the bigger question, can they really afford to?
The answer isn’t cut and dry since every household’s financial situation is different. But the harsh reality is that many children are going to be responsible for some, if not all, of their college expenses.
Parents shouldn’t put themselves into dangerous financial territory just because they assume the answer to the “should parents pay for college” question is an automatic “yes.” You shouldn’t feel obligated if shouldering that expense is going to leave you in ruin.
Before you begin putting your financial security on the back burner, here are some thoughts on the idea.
Should Parents Pay for College: A Look at Financial Stability
Most personal finance gurus would tell you that saving for your kid’s college education is an admirable goal, but it shouldn’t be your first priority.
Before you ponder the “should parents pay for college” question, you need to make sure your financial house is in order.
Typically, this involves having a suitable emergency fund, paying off your mortgage and other debts, acquiring three to six months of living expenses in a separate account, and having a proper retirement savings plan. Once those areas are covered, the answer to the “should parents pay for college” question can shift towards “yes,” as you are now stable enough to begin saving for those costs.
However, even if you save adamantly, that still doesn’t mean you’ll have the capacity to foot the entire bill. Estimates based on published tuition rates suggest that a four-year degree obtained at an in-state public university runs about $37,640, and that’s just for tuition. It doesn’t cover other expenses that go along with getting a degree.
The Total Cost of Going to College
As discussed in a previous article, Why a Full Ride Scholarship Requires Much More Than Free College Tuition, there are a lot of expenses that come with a college education.
Aside from tuition and fees, there’s also room and board, books and supplies, and personal living expenses. Taken together, these costs can easily double (or more), the cost of pursuing higher education when compared to tuition alone.
Add to that the fact that these expenses are almost always rising, and it’s no surprise that many parents can’t cover it all.
Multiple Children Households
Another hiccup regarding whether or not parents should pay for college occurs if you have more than one child. Even if you save fervently, you might not be able to cover the required expenses for all of your kids (especially at the above-mentioned $37,640 a pop), and that leaves you with an uncomfortable choice:
- You can work to pay as much towards your first student’s education as possible, potentially leaving the others with less financial support (if any).
- Divide up your savings and try to give each child an equal portion, making it less likely you can fully cover college expenses for any one of them.
No parent wants to be in a position like that, especially if they aren’t able to save as much as maybe they would have liked.
Getting Real About Paying for College
If you happen to have the financial means to pay for your child’s (or children’s) college education, that’s great! Some people do have enough financial stability to make that a reality.
But, if trying to save up that much money could ruin you financially, the answer to the “should parents pay for college” question may need to be “no.”
Even if that is the case, that doesn’t mean your child has to be saddled with student loan debt or forgo getting a degree altogether. It just means you both need to take a different approach.
First, be honest with your student about what you can and can’t afford to do, and the earlier, the better. If your child was assuming that parents should pay for college and that they didn’t need to take any responsibility towards managing these costs, then it’s better to inform them when there is plenty of time for alternatives.
Once that is out of the way, you can move on to more productive discussions instead of focusing on the “should parents pay for college” topic.
For example, you can go over the merits of going to a community college for the first two years to help bring the total cost of their education down. Not only will they learn the same material, but the transition may be easier as well.
It’s also the perfect time to start talking about scholarships.
Did you know scholarship opportunities are available all year round? Well, it’s true!
In fact, competition during the fall can actually be lower than other times of the year, making it an excellent time to start applying for these opportunities. And the number of scholarships accepting applications normally increases throughout the school year, giving them more chances to find the funds they need.
Scholarships are fantastic when your child needs money for college! They don’t have to be paid back, so your student isn’t acquiring debt, and many of them can be used for more than just tuition, allowing them to handle some of the other expenses associated with a college education too.
If you and your child want to learn more about When Your Child Should Start Applying for Scholarships, check out the article here: https://thescholarshipsystem.com/blog-for-students-families/when-your-child-should-start-applying-for-scholarships/
You can also attend our free college scholarship webinar! It’s a great way to learn about the scholarship process and how they can help your child finish their education while limiting out-of-pocket expenses.
With scholarships, it is possible to eliminate the need to ask the question “should parents pay for college?”
Instead, they can have all the financial support they need from sources that want to help students earn their degree without any undue financial stress on them or their parents.
And, in the end, doesn’t that actually sound like the best solution you could ever hope to find?
Overall, feeling like you need to completely foot the bill for college, even at the expense of your own retirement, is not recommended by most financial professionals.
Here is what we recommended above:
- Get your own ducks in a row before putting money towards college, including emergency funds, paying off debt, and saving for retirement.
- Develop a plan as far as dividing any college savings up among multiple children.
- Re-focus the discussion with your children towards other solutions for paying for college such as trade schools, community college bridge programs, and scholarships to help reduce the burden.
What did you decide with your children? What is your plan?
Share with us below to help other families trying to figure it out!