A challenging question that most parents will face as their kids are ending high school is – how much should they help their college student financially? It's a tough question, because with the rising cost of tuition (and room and board, and textbooks, etc.), the return on investment of education is starting to be pretty dismal. However, it is important for the student that parents don't help too much financially, because college is as much a time of “textbook” education as it is about “life” education.
How Much Parental Support is Too Much?
So, how much parental support is too much? I think that parents who pay for everything for their student are doing them a disservice in the long run. I've seen it too many times – parents who want their children to focus on education, and so they will pay for everything, including giving their kids a stipend to spend while in school. While this may promote more textbook learning, it doesn't teach the students to grow as people. Thinking about my college experience, having that kind of freedom would probably have made for more trouble that it's worth – I would have partied hard and not learned as much at all.
Plus, we've all seen it before – the college student that just ends up getting into trouble because everything is paid for? This of Van Wilder, the National Lampoon character who stayed in college for 7 years until his dad finally cut him off. However, after getting cut off, he learned more than he had in his past 7 years.
I'm a firm believer that parents should stick to just tuition, and possibly room and board for the first year. By not paying for everything, parents will teach their children:
- Understanding of how to balance work and play
- Time management
Plus, the students will learn that they can't take everything for granted.
How Parents Can “Cut The Cord”
However, it can be hard for parents to cut the cord and let their students figure it out. The most important thing is that parents clearly communicate with their children what their plans are. So, if you only plan on paying for tuition, start telling that to your child before they apply to school. This could be a big factor in which schools they apply to.
By setting the expectations early on, it will make the transition easier.
The other option is to setup a staggered, almost stair-step, reduction in parent support. For example, start as a freshman with full support, cut out textbooks in year 2, drop the food expenses in year 3, and drop room and board in year 4. This will help your child get in a solid routine before you start eliminating help.
Can You Do It Alone?
Finally, there are a lot of ways that students can do it alone if their parents provide no support. Many schools offer a wide variety of scholarships and student loans that students can get for their education. However, with any loan or grant, you need to make sure that you fully understand what you're getting into before signing up. With the diminishing returns on education, it could be a poor decision to take out a lot of student loans. Make sure you understand what you plan to do with your degree before investing in it.
What do you think is reasonable for parents to provide for their child's college education?