You know the bumper sticker that says “My son and my money go to UCLA” (or some other university)? I am not qualified to put that sticker on my car.
I have two sons in college, and I’m not paying for either one of them to go. Does that make me a bad dad? (They get aid as part of my veteran benefits, but it certainly doesn’t cover everything, and of course it’s not the same as my paying out of pocket.)
I feel like I’m the only parent in the world who (1) isn’t paying cash for college and (2) isn’t hiding behind the excuse of not being able to afford it.
Yes, I’m divorced from their mother and remarried. Yes, my wife and I have a preschooler. Yes, our expenses are considerable. But my position on paying for college would be the same if I had stayed single after the divorce or never gotten divorced.
Here is my position: Being autonomous is the only way to learn autonomy, and that is a fundamental part of a proper education.
It’s cheap and easy for me to take that position. Some might even call it a cop-out. I don’t care. It’s what I actually believe. And I don’t think it’s a win-lose position.
One benefit of my ‘cheap and easy’ position — from my sons’ perspective, not mine — is that they don’t (and won’t ever) have to answer to me for how they live their lives. If they goof off and get poor grades, that’s their business. If they drop out, that’s their business. If they get their degrees and then decide to become monks, that’s their business. If they rack up too much debt during college, that’s their business. Whatever they do with their investments is their business.
In the three years my oldest son has been in college, I’ve never had the slightest inclination to judge how he has spent his time or money. I’ve given him advice, but we both understand that he doesn’t answer to me. I think he is better off because of this, and I think my second son (and, down the road, my third) will be better off, too.
Still, most of the world seems to believe paying cash for college — giving till it hurts — is a sacred obligation of parents.
There’s a whole page at FinAid.org dedicated to trashing parents who, for whatever reason, don’t pay. Here’s a little excerpt:
Some parents feel that they can’t afford to pay for college or are up to their eyebrows in debt. They don’t realize that paying for your children’s college education entails sacrifice. The parents will have to forgo buying a new or second car, clothing or big-screen TV, going on the annual vacation to Aruba, eating out every night, and a few other luxuries to help pay for their children’s education. It won’t be easy, but most families can afford college if they really try.
I know paying for college entails sacrifice. But whose sacrifice should it entail?