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Who Pays for College: Parents or Kids?

Oct 13, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

How should your family handle college tuition debt?  It’s often a heavy burden for both parents and kids, and opinions differ on who should take ultimate responsibility. No family is the same, and I’ve seen my friends in college and their parents use a wide range of strategies to spread the cost around. 

Here are a few of the rationales I’ve seen from parents and families as to how college debt should be handled—and who ultimately pays.

Parents should give kids a debt-free start in life

Some college grads are extraordinarily lucky.  Their parents foot the bill for their entire college tuition, and they leave college with zero debt.  You’ve probably met a few people like this—students who have the freedom to travel, start their own businesses, or volunteer without a heavy debt burden holding them back.  Parents who hold this opinion often feel that debt will cripple their child at the start of their career—a time when they need to be at their best—and that they’ll miss out on crucial and possibly life-changing opportunities if they’re stuck paying huge college loan bills.

See Also: Online Courses in Debt Management


A college student and his parents

Who should bear the burden of college tuition costs? Kids, parents, or both?



Kids should work through college and handle their own debt

Some parents, however, take a completely different tack.  They feel that if a student really wants to go to college, they should be responsible for paying for all of it.  You’ve probably met students like this too—people who ran from class to after-school jobs, working long nights and weekends to pay tuition bills and taking out heavy loans to subsidize the rest.  Parents who feel this is the best strategy are espousing “tough love” to get their kids to grow up quickly.

A self-sufficient retirement is more valuable than a free education

Let’s face it—many parents can’t pay for college without tapping into their retirement accounts.  And some parents worry that sacrificing their retirement now will result in an added burden on their children later.  This worry could lead to parents either requiring students to pay on their own or take out extensive loans, or sending their children to less expensive schools that may not have been their top choice.  Either way, it’s a tough compromise.

Parents and kids should share the debt

Many parents take a balanced approach to college debt.  Some take on most of it while allocating a small percentage for the child to pay off, and some divide the debt in half.  Parents who use this strategy feel it’s a good balance, allowing their kids to learn how to handle the debt without burying them with it.

College debt should instill a lesson

Once I met a recent college graduate whose parents had just paid off all of her college loan debt.  This had come as a surprise, because all through college they had told her they wouldn’t pay a penny.  She’d had to negotiate for her own financial aid, secure grants and work extra hard to qualify for scholarships.  Upon graduation, her parents had paid off her entire balance as a surprise.  They had wanted to teach her a lesson about debt and let her learn how to handle money—but they didn’t want her college loans to restrict her options after graduation.  This is the solution they came up with.

So who should pay in your family?  It’s different for everyone.  Whether you feel strongly that kids should learn how to handle debt early or that your child shouldn’t be stuck with such a burden after graduation, there’s one thing we can all pretty much agree on: college costs are too high.

If you interested in learning about how to pay for college check out these other articles on paying for college. One way to reduce costs is to learn how compare the cost of college tuition between colleges, you can also join the military to get tuition assistance, learn eight ways to reduce college debt while in college, or think about whether that college degree is worth the money.




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