Solving The Equation – Should Kids Help Pay College Tuition?

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

College expenses continue to rise, and paying for these expenses presents challenges for most families. For those of us who have been down that road, we know the cost of a college education can be staggering.

Because of these high costs, parents have debated for many years whether children should help pay for their college education. While there may not be a clear right or wrong answer to this question, both options have points to consider.

Kids Helping Pay
The old adage of having “skin in the game” applies here. The general thought is that children who are helping to pay for college will be more aware of the costs involved and more likely to take education seriously. They might be more careful about their chosen major and the classes they take, rather than dabbling in various topics of interest without choosing a clear path. 

ImageHelping pay for their tuition can also give students a great feeling of responsibility and maturity. After all, they are on the path to independence. In fact, this point is seen as such a positive that many college graduates include the percentage of college expenses they paid on their resume. It’s a way for them to show potential employers that they are adults and are ready for the challenges of the real world because they have experienced the real world of paying for college. 

Another point to consider is whether the parents have the means to fund the college education. Many parents, even those who have diligently saved, have seen their incomes cut and their investments deteriorate. Unfortunately, they may no longer be able to pay for the entire experience. If their child wants a college degree, there may be no other choice but for the student to participate financially.

Many financial advisors advocate that parents be sure to prepare for their retirement first before they use all their excess funds to pay for college – better for the students to have school loans than have to take care of their parents financially after retirement. 

Parents Footing the Bill
Many people say parents should pay the entire bill for college so that students can focus on studies and do their best with their academic endeavors. Carrying a full load of college classes is, in some ways, a full-time job in itself. For every hour of classroom time, students may need to spend one to two hours outside of class. So a 15-hour class schedule could easily translate into 40 hours of class and study time.

Others believe that a student’s stress level is greatly increased when they have to worry about their finances in addition to classes. They may also miss out on college activities, which some say is a major part of the college experience.

Another consideration is the parent’s income and asset levels. Many financial aid applications require this information. Students may not be able to receive substantial aid because the parents are deemed to be in a position to contribute a large percentage of the costs.

Finally, students who pay for their own college experience will likely enter adulthood with a large amount of debt. They will have to pay back thousands of dollars over 15 to 20 years, possibly delaying their ability to purchase or rent a home. This may result in their moving back in with their parents after college so that they have the funds necessary to repay their school loans.

Rising Cost of Tuition
At our firm, we have many young couples beginning their families.  My advice to them is to start saving for college early and often, possibly by starting 529 plans such as College Savings Iowa.  According to the US Department of Education, since 1978 the cost of attending a public or private college has tripled, with tuition increases rising at an average of double the general inflation rate.  So, who should pay for what? Well, whether the parents pay the entire bill or have the kids pay a portion of the tuition will, most likely, remain an unsolved equation due to many variables.  However, the important part is to start discussions early with your student, so everyone knows the plan and expectations. Let the savings begin! 

Kathi Koenig, CPA

Partner – McGowen, Hurst, Clark & Smith, P.C.
kkoenig@mhcscpa.com
www.mhcscpa.com

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