Recently I wrote an article that appeared in a number of newspapers across the U.S. and Canada. I've never received so many e-mails and letters and cards in the mail on any article I have written for newspapers. The article follows here and is about how my wife and I have approached college funding with our children. My wife and I have allowed them to learn responsibility and ingenuity by being responsible for a portion of the costs. One reader wrote, "I wish I had heard about this ten years ago as I now have a 27- and 28-year-old living at home with little or no incentive to find work, and I can't help but wonder if it would have turned out differently had we let them play a role in the funding process."
Others shared their creative approaches to motivate their children to study diligently and finish in four years. The enthusiastic response from readers stirred me to share this same idea with you, the financial advisor, in the hope that you will consider expanding your conversation regarding college savings beyond 529 plans. I look forward to your feedback on this idea. Feel free to share the following view with your clients. I suspect that some interesting conversations will follow.
I made a deal with my kids about their college educations. It's very simple: I'll pay half and they'll pay half. How they pay for their share is up to them, but I match every dollar they earn in scholarship, pay themselves or borrow through a loan.
When I tell other parents about this, some of them look at me like I'm Attila the Hun. "Unthinkable," their expressions reveal. "You would force your kids to pay for something when you can afford it yourself?"
I can live with the furrowed brows because I have very good reasons.
I have seen what happens to many young people who turn a parent-paid education into what I call the "Budweiser Scholarship." Often, 18- and 19-year-olds are clueless about what they want to do with their life, and $20,000 to $40,000 a year is an awfully steep price for discovery. Not only that, but most people have a greater appreciation for something when they pay for it themselves--they have skin in the game.
I have four children, and each one has responded differently to the challenge.
With my encouragement, my oldest son took a year off to work in the "real world" before beginning his studies. Toiling at a job open to a high school grad convinced him of the value of college. He then worked in a DNR (Department of Natural Resources) program that gave him a sizable grant (which I then matched) toward his education. His GPA was higher in college than in high school. He was only too happy to work summers, and when he graduated, he started his career with no college debt.
My second son has worked as a waiter to supplement his education costs, which has made him very selective about how he spends his tuition money. You won't find him in either underwater basket-weaving courses or accounting II, for that matter. He is focused on creative arts: writing, theater and production.
My daughter took advantage of a program in her senior year of high school that let her graduate with a year's worth of free college credit, allowing her to finish college in three years. She was clever to come up with this plan because she needs to pay for only one year of tuition out of the three she needs to graduate: She "paid" for one year with the free credits, and I am responsible for my original two-year obligation.
We will see how my youngest son reacts. He is still in high school and living in a virtual reality world that does not yet include much thought about college.