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Why You Should Save for College

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In an article entitled "The Case for Not Saving for College" in the Money section of The Huffington Post (and on HuffPost Live on February 19), the author states that, rather than saving for college, he and his wife have opted to take their children on a trip to Barcelona, install an elaborate jungle gym in their backyard and go to the theater, among other things. It is their belief that by spending a lot of time with their children doing meaningful and exciting things, they are preparing them to be the awesome adults we would all like to see our children grow to become -- and making unforgettable memories, too.

The author goes on to state that should his children choose to go to college, they will value it all the more for having to work to pay for it themselves, and that the paltry amount ($29,000 in his estimation) that he and his wife could have saved would be of little help to them, anyway.

Here are reasons why I disagree:

  • First and foremost, it's not possible for even the most excellent parents to give their children all of the experiences needed to become mature, independent people. It takes all kinds of adults -- teachers, coaches, clergy, friends -- to shape and mold a child. Parents are the primary influencers, but lessons learned from others can be invaluable.
  • The author contends that it's a reasonable belief that one can find work and be self-supporting without a college degree, when in fact it is far more difficult, as discussed in this article in the New York Times:

This up-credentialing is pushing the less-educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor's degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

  • By not saving for college (when fiscally possible) -- and letting your children know that college is not a priority, you are discouraging them from pursuing a college education. As far as the amount, no matter the sum, any money you save will help your child get through college, and will show them that you believe that a college degree is important.
  • True, there are people who have led successful, productive lives without a degree. However, these are few and far between, and most are people who are visionaries or extraordinarily gifted. Plus, a lot of these degree-less success stories occurred many years ago. If you believe your child is an exceptional something or other, than college may not be necessary. But for the majority of us, the degree is a valuable possession that, once earned, can never be taken away.
  • The years spent in college can be some of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting of a person's life. The opportunity to learn from professors and peers in an academic environment is unparalleled in the real world. The abundance of free concerts, lectures, performances and other artistic and educational experiences available to students are valuable and enriching.
  • The view stated by many commenters on the post -- that children will value an education more if they must pay for it themselves -- is just not true. The value of education comes from the family, the parents and the examples set for the children as they are growing up. Not all fully-funded college students are wild party animals frittering away their parents money.
  • If a traditional college education isn't right for your child, encourage him or her to attend a technical school to learn a marketable skill. MBA or dental hygienist, it doesn't really matter -- as long as a person has something to offer an employer. All the traveling and jungle-gym climbing in the world won't make up for a lack of a degree, when needed.
  • Children need to be told from an early age that college is a goal for the future one way or another -- whether through the financial support of the parents or through other options, including financial aid, student loans, grants, work-study programs, part-time jobs and more. There's no rule that says college has to be completed in four years.

If your children live at home while attending college in order to cut back on expenses, it's important to stand back and let them navigate their lives with minimal interference to allow them to mature and grow. This is almost as difficult for the parent as it may be for the child.

Encourage your children to go to college. If you can, save a little -- or a lot -- to help them with the financial burden that being a student brings. Make sure they know that you value a college degree from early on.

And take them to the theater. It's a lot of fun.