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Should parents pay for their child’s college education?

Should parents pay for their child’s college education?

The message you send can be a lesson in itself. 

An article this week in “Ask Amy” focused on a young woman’s disappointment that her family couldn’t afford to send her to a dream college. She currently attends a state college that costs more than $26,000 a year. Her mother is saddened she can’t do more even though she had saved money since her daughter’s birth to send her to school without getting crushed under a mountain of debt. If you missed this article, here’s Amy response: "Your daughter needs to learn a lesson tougher than any course she will take in college; that she is responsible for her own success and happiness, now and beyond.” 

As The Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger once wrote,

"Do student loans teach responsibility or foster a lifelong over-reliance on debt? Are parents who pay their kid's way through college modeling self-sufficiency or martyrdom? Does requiring a student to get a job during the academic year instill work ethic or workaholism?”

Eileen Gallo, a psychotherapist, along with her husband, Jon Gallo, co-authored two books on childhood and money. At a workshop they presented years ago, one of the attendees raised the issue of students graduating from college or graduate school owing thousands of dollars in loans. Should parents pay for their children's college education or tell them to get student loans? "In a vacuum, the issues surrounding how parents choose to finance their children's education would seem to be entirely financial in nature. In reality, the choices are modeling values, and sending important messages to college-age children,” says Eileen Gallo.

As parents of three adult children, the Gallos have strong feelings in this area, and those feelings have evolved. 

"We originally believed that parents should pay 100% of their children's undergraduate college expenses. Over time, we have reached the conclusion the problem isn't giving children money for college, it's failing to involve them in the money process. College-age children who are involved in the economics of their education and pay part – even a small percentage – of their college expenses are less likely to develop a sense of entitlement, and (more likely to) learn valuable life lessons that help them cope with adult life.” 

Many families have no alternative but to rely on student loans, part-time college jobs, and student and parental savings. What about those who can afford to pay for college? Does paying the bill really produce entitled children? Eileen Gallo offers the following advice. 

Meet periodically with your adult child to establish a clear understanding – preferably in writing – of the economic arrangement. Some of the issues that should be covered include: Will the parents require a minimum grade point average? What is the student’s financial contribution to his/her education and how will the student earn money? The Gallos strongly recommend the student work part-time, but no longer than 15 hours per week. Alternatively, the student could work full-time during the summer. 

In conclusion, be aware of the messages and values that parental decisions send to the college-age child.

What message are you sending?


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