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Why I Did Not Pay for My Children's College

Susan has been a high school teacher for 26 years. She has an BSEd in Elementary Education and a MSEd in Secondary Education and English.

I do not believe parents are required to pay for their child's college education.

I do not believe parents are required to pay for their child's college education.

You Don’t Have to Pay For Your Kids’ College

Many people wonder how they are going to save money for their children’s education. Some people go into debt for their children’s education.

We chose not to worry about how to pay for our children’s education—not because we didn’t want them to go to college or not because we didn’t care, but because we did not have an extra dime to our name when our children were born.

We wanted our children to have ownership in their education.

Our Story as Parents

We had our son two years after we were married. Neither of us had a college degree, but after he was born, we decided if we were going to get anywhere financially and intellectually while we raised him, we needed college degrees. My husband and I waded through mountains of paperwork each year to get grants and loans in the beginning. Then, because we had the responsibility of our little family and worked so hard studying to keep our grades up, we were able to earn the Presidential Scholarship and the Dean’s Scholarship.

Our parents helped us by babysitting when we needed them to and by understanding how hard we were working to make our family successful for our son. They were supportive, but neither side was able to contribute financially to our college fund. That was left up to us, as well it should have been. We had gotten married young, 18 and 20, and we were living with the choices we made and doing alright. We were proud of what we were doing and our parents were proud of us. We never expected our parents to pay for college or for our decisions/choices in life. Even if we had taken the traditional route of high school then college then marriage then children, our parents would not have been able to afford college tuition for us. Looking back, I am glad about that, because we were awesome college students since our own time and money were on the line.

We paid for our own college and our kids will have to, too.

We paid for our own college and our kids will have to, too.

Why Kids Should Figure Out How to Pay for College

Making your children pay for their own college may seem harsh to some, and it may feel like an impossibility to others. There is no need to feel guilty for not paying for your kid’s college.

Kids need to take ownership of their own education. When parents are paying tuition, many kids, not all, do not appreciate it and party their first year away. Their grade point average drops, as do their chances for keeping or gaining scholarships. They come from high school, they do not know how to structure their lives in order to balance homework (tons of it), time, work, and any small amount of social life. They do not want to give up their social lives. When it is their money or their grant that their college future is riding on, rather than mom and dad’s bank account, it becomes an entirely different issue. Again, for the most part, when they have ownership in their education, they will do the work to succeed. They are doing it for themselves. How many of us know a student who has switched majors several times and is in college for a couple of extra years beyond the norm? Why not study and be a student when you aren’t paying for it? Students are more accountable with their choices/decisions, grades, and actions when their money, grants, or scholarships are on the line.

What Are Parents' Responsibilities?

Parents can play an integral part in helping kids be prepared for college.

  • First, from your child's early age, read to them and expose them to age-appropriate activities that will make them have a love for learning; for instance, taking them to a science museum or to historical landmarks.
  • As they grow older, be involved in their school work, but expect them to do the work. You can't do the work, and you cannot expect the teacher to spoonfeed them.
  • There will be times of success and failure. Teach your child how to recover from failure and how to graciously accept success.
  • Set high but reasonable standards for your kids and encourage them along the way.
  • When they are in junior high and high school, make sure they are taking classes and are in activities that match their ability.
  • Know that not every student is an honors student or even a college-bound student. That is okay if they have a good work ethic and high morals so they will be working at a job they enjoy.
  • College and workplaces are looking for kids who have worked and/or volunteered in the community and can be team players. These are skills you can help your child/children with as they grow and mature.

These are just a few of the ways parents can be involved in helping their kids' educational experience to be a positive one.

Some examples of important classes for high schoolers.

Some examples of important classes for high schoolers.

Classes Your Kids Should Take in High School

Of course, your kids should take the core classes, but help them pick electives that will suit their learning style and interests. Some states have programs for juniors and seniors that will allow them to work as tutors during one period out of the schedule, which, if requirements are met, such as a 2.5 GPA and a 95% attendance record, the student earns a certificate to go to a 2-year state community college for free. Kids can get their general education out of the way or get an associate's degree in a variety of vocational fields simply by being good students. If they mess up, it is on them and has hopefully taught them a life lesson, and you have not wasted your money.

If your student is an athlete with good grades, there are many scholarships out there, and there will be several college scouts looking for students to be a part of their program. Encourage your children to be good team players and to do their best (whether they are in a sport or not), but do not push them into doing something they will not enjoy. Sports scholarships are great, but many do not provide a full ride.

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Read More From Wehavekids

If you have an honors student, encourage him/her to take as many honors classes as possible. Keep in mind that your kid needs to be a kid, too, so no high pressure. High expectations are great, but burning your kid out by constantly riding them to do well is discouraging. Have your honors student take what he/she can manage. They have their whole adult lives to be responsible, hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone productive members of society. Don't kill that sense of self-learning and wonder by going overboard pushing them to do well.

Our Experience With Our Kids

Missouri has the A+ Program in place so my kids both tutored lower-level kids in high school, kept their grades above a 3.0, and went on to one of our local community colleges. My son partied his first year, lost his required 2.0 GPA, and had to pay for the last year of community college. I must add that if your kid is looking at colleges but does not have a lot of money, community colleges are cheaper and a great way to get their general education out of the way. My son graduated from the community college with his general education associate's degree. He took time off to go to boot camp, got married, had a tour of duty in the Middle East, came home, and started his major in a university using the GI Bill.

During high school, my daughter felt she was "above" going to a community college and had all kinds of plans to move to a university in a land far, far away. Well, she could not find one far enough or close enough that would grant her a full-ride scholarship. When she graduated, she finally came back to earth and enrolled in the local community college. So far, so good with her. Of course, she has her brother in the background constantly harping about how he screwed up and she needs to keep her grades up. She is working and saving to pay her tuition when she moves onto a university.

This is not to say if you pay for your children's college that they will not be successful. Many kids are, but it is often the case that the first year is the most difficult time for adjustment. We chose not to pay for our kids' college because we wanted them to want it for themselves, and nothing makes a kid want something more than when they are having to pay for it or figure out a way to achieve it themselves.

A CNN Money Statistics on Student Loans

CNN reported that 2011 college graduates owed an average of $27,000. That is a lot of money. Students need to budget for payments when they choose a field of study. Careful consideration needs to be given to how much money they will make in their career. Choices students make will affect them down the road, but if they make wise choices they will reap the benefits and ownership of their education for the rest of their lives.

More about kids:

  • How to Raise Kids to Survive Their Future
    We are being called an enabled society and a nanny state. Do individual parents have responsibilities to help kids be good citizens? Parenting is a difficult job; do you have the skills to do it?

If You Are Helping Your Kids Search for Loans, You Need to Read This Article

Questions & Answers

Question: My parents didn't pay for my college. I worked 2 jobs my first year and worked a 40 hour week after that and when to school full time (12 credits per semester). My question to you is what are your thoughts on why they would encourage their grandson not to work while attending college so he can focus on class. I really don't understand. It breaks my heart they insisted I pay my own way, and don't expect the same from my nephew?

Answer: Possibly, your parents have more money now and can afford to help their grandson. You are stronger for having worked so hard and you own it. Your nephew will not learn the value of that ownership and will always be expecting help from someone. You are independent. You might be hurt because they are paying his way, but look at all you have gained. Embrace YOUR accomplishment because it is huge!

Question: What would you say is the average education level and occupations of those parents who have sent their children to college?

Answer: I can only speak from my experience. Many parents have college degrees, and many have jobs where they worked their way up without a college education. Of course, there are some who do not work. I would not venture to place a number on them.

© 2012 Susan Holland


Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on January 08, 2019:

Hi "Selfish,"

Many disagree, and I understand. No, we were not selfish while raising our children. They never needed or wanted for anything. While we did not pay for their college, we did help them with many other things. Both of my adult children made mistakes and learned from them, but it was at their cost. They didn't make the same mistakes twice. Once they decided to leave home, they did not want interference from us - they wanted to stand on their own (while still coming home to raid the fridge and cabinets and do laundry - ha). If they asked for help and most times when they did not, we gave.

No, they did not go to Ivy League universities, but they did go to challenging colleges and universities. They each graduated with their bachelors, and each are in competitive fields. They are successful, and they did it and are proud of their accomplishments. We were there for them in many ways, but they made their life decisions. We did prepare them to live responsibly - we prepared them to see that personal independence is more valuable than money. If you feel we were selfish for not taking on their financial responsibilities, so be it.

Our kids have perspective - work over entitlement.

I guess if we wanted to control their lives and dictate what we thought they should and should not do, we could have held them hostage with finances, but we wanted them to learn how to control their own lives with their own decisions. All the statistics cannot replace the valuable life lessons we learn on our own. Nor do the statics hold up in real life. We aren't living in the '80s because the money our kids make is far above what we were making - they can handle and even more importantly, they know they can handle it.

I give my kids credit for decisions they make. They did not live in dorms. They worked and rented with friends. They learned many lessons that way. They were not deprived of making great memories, and we were not standing over their shoulder controlling them - we had already done that while raising them. We knew they would make some bad choices, (who doesn't?) but we knew we had raised them to have common sense to take care of their mistakes. They are independent, loving adults who are compassionate and giving. Go figure...

They are responsible, productive members of society who do not expect anything to be given to them because they know working for something and receiving self-satisfaction is far more fulfilling than something they were not invested in financially and emotionally. Both have careers they chose, both pay their bills and care for their families, both pay their loans, both strive to achieve their ambitions. They own their lives and love coming home to continue to share in our lives.

So, I guess you are right. We are selfish parents. We selfishly have maneuvered to raise responsible children who want to continue sharing life with their ole parents. Mission accomplished. :-) Not all millennials are entitled or enabled to continue their bad habits because they know their parents will pick up the mess. That goes for those who have parents who don't and do pay for college. The entire group cannot be stereotyped, nor can their parents.

Thanks for reading.

Selfish on December 27, 2018:

Let me say I vehemently disagree with this! This is nothing other than SELFISH and a "me first" mentality. Credential creep via educational requirement is very real and jobs that once required a AA/AS are now requiring a BA/BS and those requiring a BA/BS often require a MA/MS....yet you act like it is still 1980.

Children cannot pay for a college (4yr university) on their own without going crazy imo. I do not think burdening a 18yr old with a 15k/year bill for 9 months of school and that doesn't count living expenses is wise, smart, or helping them out it is a cop out. That is the equivalent of 500/week job while having to go to school full time? Are you nuts? Unless the only plan they can have is a Community College then transfer and still how do they pay the tuition without out loans?

That doesn't take in to account dorms, apartments, or more competitive institutions that cost far more then 15k/yr. You are limiting your children which is fine if that is what you want to do.

To me any parent especially a two parent income family who says, "Nah I'm not paying for college or helping aside from you can live here. See, I paid for my school, and you can too!" is living in the past, isn't living in reality, and is doing their children a huge disservice.

You can make them own "IT" without yoking your kids with years of debt. If you want your kids to go to a CC and then a state school while accumulating 20k in debt go for it.

My wife and I will work a little more, make them get jobs, make them contribute, but no debt or minimal, and we will see where their hard work in high school takes them. They may flounder, they may fail, but they won't have debt because mom and dad were to selfish to help them out. Nor will they have the pressure of working 40hrs a week.

In 2018 when the average cost of a state school with room and board is over 25k/yr.

It is funny because parents always teach their kids to be forward thinking, plan for the future, but how many parents say, "Whoopsy planning for your college, I'm sorry, I forgot to do that?

Lastly, the college you described is the most basic kind, it is the working adult version of it. It is not the 4 year, competitive institution with research every summer, clubs, study abroad, and volunteering that many kids do today. What do those kids do?

Different strokes for different folks though and as long as your family unit is strong, bonds are close, and they are growing as adults/careers then that is awesome!

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on November 15, 2018:

Congratulations on your hard work and best wishes with your boxing career. That is awesome. I do not think kids are "bums" when they rely on their parents for help. My kids had jobs and school, and for part of the time, they lived at home. I never considered them "bums," even when they were more into their social life than their academics. Ha! They were normal kids who were learning and growing as they went.

Thanks for sharing! I wish you the best and hope all goes well with you. I admire you for going after your dreams.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on November 15, 2018:

Wow... Many people marry young and are poor. Please do not "shame" those people for doing the best they can when you obviously do not understand. My mother helped me in a way she could as we did with our children. In return, there was lots of giving but not with money. There are lots of ways to help that do not include money or enabling. My kids are doing great. Both have great jobs and savings accounts because they know how to budget their money.

Yan Marrero on November 04, 2018:

I'm currently studying for a Major in Cell & Molecular Biology, my parents are willingly paying my tuition mostly because they understand that what I'm studying for is something I shouldn't need to work for how difficult the classes can be (to the point I was every night in the library). I'm also an amateur boxer and I was taking a break to focus on my studies. Currently I'm looking for work offseason to save up some money. I may not know the burden they've gone through but I'm willing to ease up at least some of it for college. Though I really don't mind going to work, my problem is whether or not parents pay or don't pay for their children. The one thing that bothers me that society perceive as people who studies but don't work and parents pay their tuition are considered bums because parents are "maintaining" him/her. Most parents do it because they want their child to focus more, and they don't mind as long as they graduate and become successful. Granted, I know students who manage to do both study/work and are honor students, and although they do manage, sometimes work gets between their academic progression. Although possible, I'm trying to balance it with boxing since I aim to turn pro in few years. However, it still bothers me that because students live with parents income are considered bums of society. I think people who thinks that way should no be concerned and at least let them do what they love.

Still, I can understand and agree with few points made in the article. I think parents should do what's best for their child, whether to teach them to defend themselves, but not to the point of putting all the pressure on him/her. We know as next leaders of the future of our nations we will need be prepared for what comes ahead.

Mindy on October 29, 2018:

Your parents should have charged you for daycare or told you to pay for it somewhere else to add to your struggle. You married young and uneducated. There is half of the problem. There was mever going to be the possibility of paying for their education, anyway. I wouldn’t never make my children pay for undergrad. It’s a gift so they don’t have to deal with a heavy financial burden. Kids of their own? Home ownership? Not likely with debt. It’s called opening a savings plan for 18 years and not having kids while poor. What a shame.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on July 08, 2018:

To "You don't understand..."

Yes, I do understand that parents' income is taken into account, but my kids still chose to go to college and own it. Yes, like me, they have student loans, but I did not "make" my children choose that route. As a matter of fact, they made some bad choices in their first two years that caused them to lose scholarship money. They were young and made mistakes and they learned from their mistakes and took on the responsibility for and the consequences for their actions. I am very proud of them for moving forward rather than quitting.

You don't understand... on May 28, 2018:

It is okay to choose not to pay for your child's education, but you should be aware of the financial burden that you are placing on them. Financial aid takes parents' income into account, whether or not the parents plan to contribute. You could easily make your child pay $60,000+ for a private institution when, in reality, their EFC is closer to $0.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 01, 2015:

Right, Vicki! As educators of college-aged students, we see the ones who appreciate their education and ones who feel they are entitled. We saw it as students, too. I remember thinking how disrespectful those kids who were there because their parents paid the way. They partied and skipped class and failed many courses. I was four years older than those who were coming from high school, and I don't think they were ready (some, not all). Maturity was needed - and I am not judging because I made plenty of immature, stupid mistakes (live and learn - ha!). When I was paying my own way, I knew I was ready. I loved college because it was what I wanted. Because it was my dime, I worked really hard to be successful for myself and my own little family. I believe kids need to be ready and responsible for their choices and to feel a sense of ownership and accomplishment. I don't believe our parents were treating us "like garbage" as DISAPPOINTMENT implied about me above, nor do I think that is what we intended when our kids had to make their own way, either. I think, no, I know we prepared them for living in this world and gave them a chance to feel self-satisfied in their own success. :-) Also, like you, my mom could not afford to even think about sending me or any of the 7 before me to go to college. What she did for me was much more valuable, which made it possible for me to strive to go to college. I feel blessed for having her as my mother and having the best life education from her. She was my true foundation for success.

Thanks so much for dropping by! It is always good to "see" you! :-)

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 01, 2015:

Suzette, I am glad you didn't regret paying for your own education. I went to school in the 8O's and had to take out some loans for living expenses - my husband and I were poor as church mice. When my husband went to Iraq in 2003 (our 20th year of marriage) and received hazardous duty pay, I was able to finally pay off my loans. College is expensive, but it was my choice. I don't regret it either.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I know some kids have parents who pay for their college, and they are great kids. I also know that just as when we were going through college, there were, as there still are now, some kids who took advantage and partied because it wasn't their money. Some of them had to leave school, and some of them had parents who continued to pay for more years until the college student became serious about their education. My husband and I are glad we did it on our own (maybe backwards, but on our own terms - Ha!). We both appreciated how important our education was and didn't take for granted one cent we had to pay for school and the choice of being married. It made us stronger and frugal.

Thanks again, and I appreciate you dropping by! :-)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on April 01, 2015:

I agree, Susan! Parents do not owe their children a college education. Most can't afford it. My parents couldn't it. And we all learned discipline, as you mention, by getting grants, scholarships where we could, working when we could. I think parents are doing their children a disservice by paying for their college. If they're well off, maybe they could pay for certain things, but it is not owed. And students should at least contribute to their own education. Not paying for a kids' college education does not hurt them. I would argue that it does the opposite. It helps them more than it hurts! Great hub!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on April 01, 2015:

I had to pay my way through college. I lived at home and commuted to college and worked 25 to 30 hours per week and took full time classes. I paid all my own tuition and books, for a car and gas. It was not easy but I did it. My parents were financially situated that they could have paid my way, but they felt I would learn more by paying for my own education. They were right. I have never regretted paying for my own education. Of course I went to school in the 70's when it was possible to pay for your own college without having to take out loans. I was very fortunate.

Susan Holland (author) from Southwest Missouri on April 01, 2015:

Disappointment, you are correct in feeling parents should provide a foundation for their children and in raising them to be responsible and independent. My husband and I did that, but we chose not to pay for their college. Neither of my children feel like they have been treated like "a piece of garbage." Both receive our support in their daily lives, but they do not expect financial support. When they decided to leave home, they became responsible for their lives as adults.

Our children are well-rounded adults who want their own independence. They love and respect us and the choices that were made while they were raised. Our adult children are still the center of our world, and we are blessed and fortunate that they want us to be a major part of theirs. We call and text each other several times a week. They come home whenever they want because they want to. They are even Facebook friends with us. They know we are here when they truly need us. We have a wonderful bond and a loving family. I couldn't ask for more.

As you point out, the world is not a nice place to be, but at least our children have a safe place where they know they will always be loved and cherished. They do not resent us for not paying for their college. We raised them to survive in this world, not to feel entitled or to walk around with a chip on their shoulder. We raised them to make good choices in this world full of bad choices. My children are success stories and I am very proud of them.