What All Parents Should Consider
This time of year many of us are attending graduation ceremonies and celebrations, helping family and friends turn the page as they launch their children into the next phase of their lives. For many parents with a high school graduate, the stress that comes with helping their kids navigate the funding of the college experience is right around the corner. When they see the first tuition bill, many may wonder whether college is still worth the ever-increasing cost!
It has become increasingly popular in the media to question whether a college education is still worth it. Recent studies offer an unequivocal answer – YES! While the cost of college has been increasing, the additional amount of income that college graduates earn when compared to those without a degree is even greater. According to a 2014 NY Federal Reserve report, an individual with a bachelor’s degree will earn more than $1,000,000 more in wages over their lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.
Given the cost of college these days, it is even more important for families to have a plan for college selection and funding. This should start well before the child’s last few months of high school.
Here are five key considerations:
- Type of School: There are all sorts of variables to consider – size, location, areas of study, and culture. I firmly believe that finding a college that is a great fit for the student is far more important than the institution’s ranking on the US News & World Report annual list.
- Cost and Who Pays: There are many different ways to fund college. Some parents pay the full cost of college, and others want the student to pay some or all of the education expenses so that the student has “skin in the game.” Neither is right or wrong, however determining a funding plan and setting expectations with the student about how to cover the costs is important. I see too many parents avoid the conversation about how to pay for college, and then ultimately make a poor decision or disappoint their child when the offer letters start coming in. I suggest bringing the cost of college and how to pay for it into the conversation with the student before he or she submits college applications.
- Student Loan Debt: Both students and parents can borrow to fund college costs. It makes sense to run some numbers up front to see how much student loan debt can be managed once the child is finished with college. Don’t wait until after college graduation to figure out how heavy the college debt burden will be. Information on payment plan options and financing terms are available at studentloans.gov.
- Area of Study: Discuss the income prospects of certain career choices with your child as a way to mentor them in cost/benefit decision-making. If the student wants to pursue a career in education or social work, does an expensive private school make sense when lower-cost state schools would provide a quality education in this area? If your student has no idea what they want to do, does it make sense to pay $50,000 per year at a high-end university while he or she figures it out? Helping kids understand the financial costs and benefits of certain decisions can be helpful in college selection as well as other aspects of adult life.
- Non-Traditional Options: Going to a four-year college right after high school may not be the best option for some students, especially if they are on a tight budget. Consider alternatives such as a technical or trade school, or attending a junior college or online classes for a year or two in order to earn college credits at a lower cost before entering college.
If you agree that college is still worth the increasing cost, I advise you to consider the financial and non-financial factors in the decision. Start the conversations early, and make sure clear expectations are set for all parties. Every student and situation is different and it is all about figuring out what’s right for you and your family.