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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Should College Students Reap the Benefits of their Choice

Mr FS and I attended musical event last night. At the break, we talked to an acquaintance. Our chat followed a familiar course.

Acquaintance: How is Miss Em?
Me: Fine. How's Sarah?

There follows a 10 minute monologue detailing Sarah's many accomplishments. Poor Miss Em! The inquiry is perfunctory really: the acquaintance is only interested in blabbing about her daughter.

Las night the conversation took an unexpected turn. Instead of the expected bragfest, Mom said "I can't wait till Sarah graduates. I told her: that's it!" After some questions, I learned that Sarah--who attends a mid-range private college--got a lot of grants ("the tuition is over $40,000"). Still, Sarah faces $20,000 in debt and Mom and Dad pledged to pay it off.

I said, "$20,000 isn't all that bad for 4 years in a private college."

Mom said, "That doesn't count the $1800."
Me, "A year?"
Mom, "No, a MONTH."

I love math, as long as it's low level, so I quickly computed that we are talking about around $100,000 in after-tax income. Mom is a paralegal and I'm not sure what Dad does--something with maps.

Then I started thinking. If Sarah had elected to go to a state school, she would have received the Louisiana tuition scholarship (TOPS). Mom and Dad would have been on the hook for about $10,000/year for room, board, and books.

That totals $40,000. What about the other $60,000? Well, that could buy Sarah a car post graduation, leaving around $40,000 for a house down payment.

While I've heard some parents offer a wad of cash in lieu of a wedding to the happy couple, I've never heard of anyone offering to let the student reap all or even part of the financial benefit of choosing a lower cost school.

What do you think of this modest proposal?


Kare said...

I do not understand sending children to private colleges.. Tuition is outrageous and the quality is not better. All three of my children went to public colleges in Alabama. It is still expensive and there was nothing left over to help for cars or house payments. They should be able to make it,my husband and I not have the help that they did; and we have managed. Being financially savvy is the best skill set you can teach your children

Patience_Crabstick said...

I'm imagining my daughter's reaction if I told her we were going to give her the money we'd saved on her tuition, for a car. She was accepted at several private colleges, including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pratt Institute, but she chose to go to VCU art because, as she put it, "I don't want to start my life out in debt."

On the other hand, my son went to a private, liberal arts college in New York, but he won a scholarship that brought the tuition down to the level of a state school, and he earned two years of credits at a community college, so we only had to pay tuition there for two years.

We still have two younger children, so nobody's about to get a car or a house downpayment around here. :)

Marcela said...

I believe in attending the school one can pay for with no or minimum debt.Also, my parents taught us that cars and houses were big things that we had to pay for ourselves, that they were giving us the tools to do so (education) but that it was for us to work hard to get them.
I wouldn't expect my mother to have incurred in such huge debt for me. She worked hard to raise me, now it's her turn to enjoy the money she saved and the fruits of her hard work.

Shelley said...

I'm afraid this is so beyond the realms of my family experience that I can't relate. Your proposal suggests that there is a rather large pot of money allocated for each child's education and that they can choose to use it frugally and get the balance or to use it for an expensive education and not have anything else. I agree with Marcela that my parents worked hard and made sacrifices to get me in a position to go to college. It would never have occurred to me to ask them for more as they obviously didn't have it to give. However, in answer to your question, yes, I believe people should enjoy the consequences of their choices. How else will they learn?

Duchesse said...

I think your logic is like the "princess dollars" concept of shopping: That coat was on sale so I saved $100, so I now have $100 for..."

There is no real savings here unless they have banked the difference *during* the period of her school. But few do. They spend it elsewhere: vacations, toys, unanticipated emergencies or even noble things like helping someone in need.

If your acquaintances were disciplined and did save the difference, they could gift it to the daughter- but I do not believe it is owed to her, simply because she did not incur the higher costs.

Anonymous said...

I would rather have the better college than the car. (I didn't even need a car in graduate school city.) I wouldn't trade my 4 years at a top SLAC for anything. And I can understand why Obama had to transfer from Oxy-- I also would have run out of stuff at an appropriate level of challenge by my junior year. Not so at my own SLAC.

At one of the regional state schools that would have paid me a stipend to go, I never would have been able to get into the top graduate program in my field. (Where graduates worry about "which" academic job they will get, not "if" they will get one.) And I would not be making over 6 figures now doing what I want to be doing. I might be making over 6 figures, but not as a professor.

Mardel said...

I don't understand where the $1800/month comes from. Mom and Dad promised to pay off the 20K. I assume the grants did not pay the rest. Did they promise daughter that they were able to pay the 1800/month? In which case it is their own decision not daughter's and they have no reason to complain. Of course if they couldn't afford it and they promised anyway they have other issues.

I think you shouldn't go to a college you can't afford, unless you know you are going to get the skills to make the income to pay off the debt (medical school perhaps?). I have no problem with the idea of paying more for a top education and I do believe it makes a difference for some students if you can afford it or get scholarships. Just because a school is private or expensive doesn't mean its worth the money though. so I see the issue as complicated.

However, I don't think that parents should offer to pay an amount for tuition that they really can't afford. Nor do I think that offering cash or a car instead of college tuition is reasonable or wise.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Everybody: OK--I tried again in another post. Sorry for my lack of clarity, which no doubt persists. And hola, Manuela! Haven't been practicing my Spanish with your blog lately. Will return.

Funny about Money said...

My son went to an expensive private college. His dad paid the full freight: tuition, room, board, books.

Today, at the age of 35, he's fully as underemployed as he would have been had he attended the Great Desert University or the academically superior public university in Tucson, at either of which he could have had free tuition because of my job at GDU.

I urged him to do go to one of Arizona's public universities but was overridden by his father, for whom things like this represent some sort of ego trip. I guess. Can't imagine any other explanation for it.