Friday, December 30, 2005

The Great College Debate

The other day I was speaking to a woman who said that she gets very uncomfortable around people who talk about planning for their children’s college years. She said that despite the fact that she and her husband have extra money, she has no intention of ever putting away a penny for her daughter's tuition.

Her comments floored me. I thought that it was very selfish of her to force her daughter to struggle when she does not have to. I was curious about why someone would have such a crass attitude. I could not understand it, so I did a little research.

My attitude is markedly different, but then I have a different experience from the other woman. My husband and I both worked our way through college. We graduated from college at 22 and are paying off our student loans. We paid all of our own bills while we were there. While I resented the people who never had to work hard for their college education, I have every intention of making my son one of those people so that he can take advantage of opportunities that my husband and I could not because of our finances.

At any rate, this woman's point was that it is useless to worry about your child's college education. It is not something that should be of concern to parents of babies. I disagree. I think that now definitely is the time to worry about my son's college education. Estimates are that the cost of attendance at a public university will be $200,000 over four years when my son heads off in 18 years. That cost for in-state private schools or out-of-state public schools will be $400,000; and it will be a whopping $600,000 for out-of-state private schools. That suggests to me that our idea to start investing money now, when our baby is still a baby, is the best idea for his future.

The other reason that this lady believes she should not is that she believes that college is not something that is the parent's responsibility. Instead the parent's responsibility is to provide food, clothing, and shelter only. While those are the absolute minimums, in my mind it makes you a pretty poor parent if you are unwilling to provide anything extra. Sure, you do not have to lavish your child with toys, but why not give her a special present every once in a while?

I feel the same about college. No one is forcing me to prepare now for my son's college education, but I feel an obligation to do so. He is, after all, my son, and I am not going to toss him to the wolves on his eighteenth birthday. He will still live in my house, at least temporarily, and he will still be part of my life. I expect to help him with whatever he chooses.

There is a final reason that I believe the anti-college sentiment is wrong. The very same woman who proposed to me that it was silly spends on her baby. She buys and buys presents that the baby does not need. In my mind, that is such a poor decision! I would rather my son be without the full collection of giant Care Bears than have to through college because I blew what could have been his college savings on the Care Bear collection.

It is our job as parents to our babies to think beyond this year or next year. While we love them and know that they are only a few short years away from temper tantrums and arguing with you about taking the car. Still, you need to think about your baby's life in the years to come because you will need to be prepared to give your baby a wonderful life as an older child and into adulthood as well. If we endeavor to make each generation more upwardly mobile, which is the general trend in the United States, then there is no reason why we should not want to provide more for our babies that we had provided for us. If you have the opportunity and means to begin to put away money for your baby's college years, consider it seriously. The future of your family depends on it.

By Julia Mercer

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