On average, families spent $26,226 on college in 2018-2019. Parents are also borrowing more with the average annual borrowing amount for parent borrowers more than tripling over the past 25 years. I think parents should stop paying for college and definitely should not go into personal debt for it.

Did you start an education fund for your kids right after they were born? That’s become more common. Saving for your kids’ college education is even part of Dave Ramsey’s baby step 5.

Planning is smart. It’s great to prepare for the future, but not so that you can 100% fund your kid’s college experience.

Some parents are saving their hard-earned money for over 15 years for their children to attend institutes of higher learning. The price of attending college keeps going up and trying to save money for multiple kids to go to college adds significant financial stress.

This isn’t about the financial stress this puts on parents, although that is real. This is about what our kids learn and experience when we completely fund their lives into their early twenties.

parents should stop paying for college

Why Parents Should Stop Paying for College:

Responsibility

At what age do you think kids should become responsible for their own lives? I’m not saying we don’t help at all, but it seems as though the pendulum has swung the other direction and parents are over managing their kids’ lives.

In my early twenties, I worked at a University. I fielded many calls from parents who were trying to take care of things for their kids.

Some of them were parents to 18-year-old freshmen and a couple of others were parents of 20 somethings in law school. Plenty of students were managing their own lives, of course, but I wasn’t hearing from their parents.

What I found most interesting were the parents who insisted that their kids should not be treated as adults even though they legally were adults. The parents were footing the bill for the school and thus felt like they should be able to continue to manage various aspects of their kid’s life.

At some point, parents need to let go…preferably before our kids reach their twenties. We’re actually doing a disservice to our kids by paying for their life and micromanaging it.

We are delaying adulthood and preventing our children from maturing when we insist on doing everything for them. Parents should stop paying for college or at least from funding it entirely.

Expectations

Kids will often live up to our expectations. If we treat them as children instead of young adults, they’re more likely to behave like children.

Young adults should be part of the process of problem-solving to figure out how to make college work. We as the parents get to partner with them as they sort out financial aid, scholarship applications, looking for jobs, and considering which option is the best fit for them.

And by partner with them, I mean help them if they get stuck. I do not mean taking over and doing these things for them. It is the kid who should be making the decisions about their future and the parent is there to help guide and support them.

Research schools with them. Consider community college or opting for a running start program if they are available in your area. Start these conversations early on in high school since some of the programs begin their junior year.

Talk about the costs associated with various college options. And in this also realize that college isn’t the only or best choice for every person. There are trade schools, online schools, or training programs that may be a better fit. Entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming a valid choice too.

My experience

When I was considering my college options, my parents were clear with me on how much they were willing to contribute. It was a flat amount regardless of where I chose to go.

In the end, I opted for a small private school knowing that it was more expensive but also that the experience was worth it to me. I applied for scholarships and I took out loans.

I was invested in my education and worked an on-campus and an off-campus job. During my junior year, I was a resident advisor so I could save on housing costs. I took summer school classes at a community college so I could save money and graduate a semester early.

It took me quite a while to pay off my student loans. I went to grad school as well but opted to pay for it as I went so I didn’t tack on additional loans. I have no regrets about the choices I made.

Lessons learned

My parents started teaching me early about budgeting. College was no exception. I learned how to balance school and work. I knew I was taking on debt and I never took school for granted.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I encountered kids whose parents were paying for their entire college experience and also paying them an allowance for being a student.

Do you think a student in that situation appreciates and understands the value of their education the same way? How well do you think they are prepared for life after college?

Some students treat college as extended high school. They aren’t as concerned about making the best choices because there isn’t an expectation of responsibility and ownership. If they aren’t invested in their education, it’s easy to take it for granted and not take it seriously.

It’s our job to teach them the value of education and hard work.

Struggle & grow

College is an opportunity to learn and grow. It was my entry into adulthood and real life. My parent’s had instilled in me a strong work ethic and wisdom with finances during the years I lived at home. I was prepared to manage life and finances during and after college.

Parents don’t want to see their kids struggle, but it is in the struggle that we grow. If we choose to give our children a false sense of the world by overly protecting them from the realities of life, then we haven’t prepared them for adulthood.

I keep hearing how kids should be taught the skills of ‘adulting’ in high school so that they are better prepared for life. First of all, I think it is funny (or perhaps sad) that we call normal responsibilities ‘adulting’ now like it is some terrible or difficult thing, but I digress…

These are the things we should be teaching our kids at home as they grow up. If we manage every aspect of our kids’ lives and don’t require them to learn how to cook, clean, or budget and then continue to fund their entire lives into early adulthood, we haven’t done them any favors.

Protect & prepare

I really do understand a parent’s desire to help their kids get started off on the right foot. I get that we don’t want our kids to start their lives saddled with debt.

If you want your kid invested in their college education, they should be involved in paying for it. You appreciate what you have much more when you’ve worked for it rather than had it all given to you.

I think it is ok to knowingly take on loans when you believe that particular educational experience is worth it. I don’t think it’s ok for parents to take loans themselves though. That is beyond the scope of a parent’s responsibility.

To prepare kids for adulthood, give them increased responsibility as they get older. The end goal should be ownership over their lives. Preparing them for the real world means not isolating them from all the things that come with being an adult.

If we don’t want to raise a generation of entitled kids, we need to do the hard work of preparing them for the world outside our homes. We lead by example to teach them gratitude and the value of hard work.

Parenting goals

One of my main goals as a parent is to raise kids who are resilient and can handle the ups and downs that come in life. If I don’t let them experience pain, difficulty, and challenges they will be ill-prepared for how to deal with these things in life after they’ve left my home.

College is the time where they get to fly. They get to make decisions and manage life outside of my home for the first time ever. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t prepare them to be independent and responsible both personally and financially.

If we want our kids to learn to live within their means, then we need to let them experience what that is. If we enable them to live a life they can’t afford, we are setting them up for future failure.

So should parents should stop paying for college altogether? It’s up to each family to decide what the right balance is for them. The bottom line is you appreciate and are more invested in things you’ve had to work for.

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8 Comments

  1. I have to somewhat disagree. While I don’t think that parents should treat college like a “no strings attached” handout, I have friends who, despite having gotten pretty generous scholarships, left school with student debt that they now make larger payments on than their homes. I could see adding conditions to paying for college. (Such as keeping above a certain GPA or working a minimum number of hours for their own spending money.)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kelsie. In that instance, I’d advocate for choosing a less expensive school so that you don’t end up with insane loans. I think it’s also ok for parents to incentivize their financial assistance if they want…some scholarship programs do that too. I don’t have issue with parents helping out some. I more think it is a problem when they pay for all of their life during college and don’t adequately prepare them for the real world.

  2. This is a fine line we walk.. we always want our children to have ‘better’ than us but if we take care of too much it really makes their lives harder in the long run. I actually think it starts much earlier than college. From the time my kids were able to understand I gave them an allowance for doing small chores around the house. When they wanted something extra, a new toy, etc. They had to save up their money to get it. With each year they got more responsibility and even though I would pay them to do certain chores (ie: mow the lawn, shovel the snow, etc) they gained an understanding of hard work and earning their way. By the time the got to college it was an easy conversation of who had to pay for what. I did pay for their tuition with the understanding that their education was my gift to them.. each year thru high school and college they took on more and more responsibility. Their first year of college they were responsible for spending money, books etc. The second year they were responsible for their food.. and by the third year their housing. Both of them were really appreciative of being able to graduate with no student loans but they never expected me to pay for anything else once they graduated. Sorry for the long reply but I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s a learning process from the time they are small not necessarily just a cutoff when they go to college.

    1. I think what you chose makes sense, Donna. The point to me is really about preparing them for life after college. It sounds like you’ve done that. I do think each family knows their kids and should do what works best for them. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. I understand your point and I agree when we consider the status quo.. I paid for my own education – I’m actually still in debt because of it.

    That being said, health care and education should be free in a developed country. Surely there has to be some benefit to people paying taxes aside from funding expensive wars.

    Dee ~ Vanilla Papers

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