A family I know has raised a whole bunch of kids — the number is somewhere between the Brady Bunch and Cheaper by the Dozen — on a fairly modest income. The parents don’t worry about paying for college, because they’ve told all of their children flat out that once they graduate high school and reach age eighteen, that’s it. The only support that will be offered will be moral support and regular deposits of encouragement. If they want to get a two-year degree, a two-year and then two more years for a bachelor’s, or four years at a private college, they’re paying for it themselves, regardless.
Are the mother and father bad parents? Absolutely not — far from it. Is it harsh? Perhaps it might look that way, but I don’t think so. Here’s why not the fact that they’re not paying for their children’s college is viable and, dare I say, praiseworthy:
- It’s fair. It’s the only alternative that’s fair to all of the children, honestly. They don’t have the resources to pay for everyone’s college, so they pay for no one’s college.
- It’s not a surprise. The children knew that financial support was ending, so it wasn’t as if they didn’t have time to prepare.
- It gets the children to think carefully about their education. College isn’t right for anyone, and it makes real sense to get a high-schooler to think about where they want to go. They might not know exactly, but by placing the financial responsibility squarely on their shoulders before any money is committed, they’ll find a better answer, sooner, than if it’s on someone else’s tab.
- It encourages resourcefulness. Financial aid, scholarships, grants, etc. are available, but only if they look for them. CLEP exams are much cheaper than credit hours. Great deals exist in higher education.
- It strengthens the children. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, appeared on The Tonight Show in 2000. When asked about his kids and his billions (at the time), he said something to the effect that the worst thing he could do to them would be to let them see a dime of it.
- Most importantly, it doesn’t place undue stress on the parents’ retirement. Saving for college is a sacrifice but it shouldn’t be at the expense of some self-funded financial security in old age.