Paying for College

Call me heartless, but I’m not paying for my children’s college education. I’m not going to write a check when their tuition bill arrives or put money aside in an educational savings account for them. If my kids want to attend an institution of higher learning, they’re going to have to pay for it themselves. Yet parents are told that if we don’t start saving now, our kids will never be able to afford school and be shut out for the American Dream.


Sure, college is expensive. This year students attending a public university will shell out an average of $5,836 dollars a year for tuition and fees if they attend a public university. You can more than double that figure if you include room and board charges. Private university students can pay over $22,000 in tuition and fees.But what’s wrong with the idea of encouraging our children to pay for it through working, scholarships, loans, or a combination of the three?

People tend to value things more when they have an ownership interest in it. Whether it’s a house, a car, or a college degree, once someone becomes responsible for paying for it, it often means more to them. This was my experience with college.

The first college I attended was a small community college in Wyoming. Because my dad was a professor there, my tuition and fees were waived. I enjoyed my two years there but certainly didn’t study as hard as I should have. I did just enough to get by and left after two years with a B+ average. I could have done much better.

Then I transferred to a large out-of-state university. Because of my mediocre grades and accomplishments at my first school, scholarship money was not forthcoming. After realizing that the paying school was going to fall on me, I had to make a choice: either pay for it myself or drop out.

I decided to continue school. That first tuition check I wrote nearly wiped out my savings account. But one thing did change: my grades and overall school performance improved dramatically. My first quarter back, I earned straight A’s. I studied harder, settled on a major, and made sure I was taking classes that would help me obtain a degree quickly. All of the hard work eventually paid off. Some of my writings won awards and was published. I was invited to participate in conferences. If mom and dad had been paying the bill, I doubt I would have motivated to accomplish as much as I did.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t have anything against a college education. I found my college experience to be worthwhile and it helped develop my unique skills and abilities. But I also want my children to develop their talents so they can be successful and love what they do with their life.

If my kids think college is a good way to develop their unique abilities, then I will certainly encourage them to attend. But not everyone has the capability or aptitude to do well in a college environment and a college degree ticket isn’t a magic ticket to a successful and happy life. I want those to go to college to have earned not only a degree but the knowledge that comes with learning how to afford something one really wants.

Even though I won’t be footing my children’s tuition, I’m not a complete Grinch. If my kids come asking me for money to pay for school, I’d be more than happy to give them a loan.


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This essay was originally published on You can read all of Abel's FreeCapitalist essays here.