04/04/2013 05:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2013

Why Paying for Your Child's College Education Isn't Giving Them a 'Free Ride'

The cost of a post-secondary education is a hot topic. Tuition fees continue to rise, and student debts are crippling new grads. The big question to me is, who should pay for school? Should parents do their best to cover their kids' educations, or should students pony up, cobbling together the funds through part-time jobs, grants and loans, possibly putting themselves in financial straits for years?

Recently, I read an article on Today's Parent where the author laid out her reasons for requiring her kids to kick in for their own post-secondary educations. I disagreed with most of the author's points, but couldn't argue that young adults to take some responsibility for their fiscal situations, if only to teach them the basics of budgeting. What really bothered me, more than the concept, because every family is free to do what works for them, was the title: "Why My Kids Won't Get a Free Ride to University." These words implied to me that providing my children with the best start in life that I can afford is in fact doing something gratuitous for them, something they don't deserve, that they haven't earned.

I've got three teenagers. One already in university, one in the 11th grade, and one just finishing primary school. And, to the best of my ability, I intend to pay for their post-secondary educations. (Yes, I faint every time I think about it.)

My Dad, who passed away a couple of years ago, valued education above anything else. Growing up, his question was never "Are you going to University?", but rather, "Where are you going to go and what are you going to take?" He paid to educate four of us through undergraduate degrees (and several college courses for my youngest sister), and went so far as to help two of us out with post-graduate degrees too. Even when I was 40 years old, he'd call me up and ask me if I wanted to go to Teacher's College, get a Master's Degree, take a course. If it was learning, he was willing to spring for it.

My Dad was no kind of deep pockets, though. He wouldn't buy us expensive clothing or fancy vacations. He did like a nice meal, but didn't squander money unnecessarily. However, an education was not an area he was open to scrimping on.

What a gift he gave all of us children. What an amazing start to our adult lives.

That's why I find it interesting to hear about so many parents who do not believe in paying for their kids' educations, even if they can afford it. Especially if they can afford it.

I am not even sure if I can afford it and I want to help my kids out. And this is why:

I don't want them to start their adult lives with debt. According to this article in Macleans Magazine, it costs on average $80,000 for a student to obtain a four-year degree (I can attest to that, as I have the bills from my daughter's first year, and they added up to $18,000), and most graduate with extensive student debt. For many, the path to repayment will be at least 14 years, taking them into their mid-30s before their Bachelor's degrees are paid off (forget professional or Master's degrees). The statistics for student debt are even more overwhelming for Americans. Why in the world would I do that to my child? What kind of lesson is that?

Don't borrow when you can pay in cash. My Dad imbued in me an intense dislike of interest, unless it's the kind you're receiving. I have had 18 years to save up for my kids' educations with the ability to leverage compound interest and 20% government contributions into their RESPs. Student loans may be easy to get, but there is interest attached. Instead of paying out the percentages, bring them in. Take off $10 per paycheck, per child, and bank those decades of birthday, Christmas and Chanukah cheques. Save for their future just like you would save for your own retirement.

Teach a child to appreciate something and they won't take it for granted. My kids grew up in a middle-class lifestyle. They know that lots of families have more, but even more have much less. Being gifted with an education is just that -- a gift. And one that is accompanied by expectations, such as how they are to comport themselves and what they are to achieve. Just like all of our parenting, we let them know what's expected of them, and we don't pussyfoot around them. There's no 'free ride' in this house, but rather a deserved result of something they have worked very hard for.

University is a life experience as well as a learning experience. I truly believe that teenagers benefit from living away from home when they're taking a degree or diploma. Campus life, parties, dorm life, roommates, finding a house, apartment, managing time, budgeting, preparing meals -- these are all part of college life. To me, unless the student really isn't ready to leave home, going away for school is a necessary part of the separation process, especially in these days of helicopter parenting. So, half the money goes to tuition, and the other half goes to living expenses (unless you're living it up a little too much, like I did, and then you're coming home. Which I did. See point above.)

Now, before you think I'm all kinds of spendthrift and that my progeny have no idea about the value of a dollar, these kids do have to contribute. My daughter worked two jobs last summer and saved a ton of money to feed her shopping habits. And, she's already been told that she needs to work part-time starting in second year. But, I just don't feel like hardship makes you stronger, or more appreciative.

So, just like my father, we may not pay for designer jeans, expensive lipgloss or concert tickets. But, we do pay for university (or college, or music school, or trade school...)

Because to us, when it comes to our children's futures, we truly believe that a Penny Wise is a Pound Foolish.

Originally published on momfaze.

photo credit: MomMaven via photopin cc