Should Parents Begin Choosing Their College-Bound Kids' Majors? Possibly!

When a child goes to college today, it means the entire family goes to college... both literally and figuratively. It is a monumental commitment for all to undertake.
01/15/2014 01:37 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

From the moment my children were born, I began drilling into their heads the importance of being capable of taking care of themselves -- in both the short and long terms. That doesn't mean I launched them from my womb directly into the wilderness with a bottle in one hand and backpack in the other. It means I realized early on that a big part of my job as a loving mother was to ensure that my children were provided the opportunity and means to fulfill their true potential and paths similarly to what I was fortunate enough to do.

The only way I know how to come close to "ensuring" anything in life is to lay the necessary groundwork reaping the desired results as early as possible. And so my children understood from the moment they could formulate the word "college" in their mouths that they were going; that I was saving for the occasion and that they were required to convince me why I should give them their college funds through a means of solid reasoning and a choice in majors that would warrant these expenditures.

Needless-to-say, as poetic as they can be at times, none of my kids are going to grow up to be poets. I can already hear the backlash from English majors, journalists, writers, and authors now to that statement and my underlying reasoning. But the fact is, none of these people are going to be paying the $2.5 million I will be dishing out to educate my kids to the extent that they want to be educated and so... argue the point, I will not. What I will tell you is that my sternness in this regard has been stipulated with the understanding that I will stand behind each and every one of my kids -- while lending as much support as possible to them -- if they want to pursue poetry as a career after they graduate college with a degree that offers certain assurances as to the likelihood that they will find gainful employment once they exit their dorm rooms for good. The alternate is that they don't need to take my money.

Sounds harsh? Yes, but so is life when you can't feed, cloth, or house yourself and must rely on your parents to do so to the longevity, detriment, and unfairness of everyone involved. No doubt, the cost of college these days is numbing but equally as numbing are the unexpected realities and burdens these large tickets are laying on entire families... especially parents.

Now some of you will argue, "Well, it was the parents who chose to have the kids. Shouldn't they expect to bear the ongoing costs of propping their offspring up until they can feasibly get on their way?" I'd say, "Yes... to the extent that they can -- having had no control over the economy and little control over personal and professional circumstances that carried them to the place they are today due to that lack of control." However, in my opinion, given that parents must now absorb the extraordinary financial costs of carrying their kids beyond college for unlimited amounts of time on top of the suffocating costs of college, shouldn't parents expect to have a substantial say in the choice of majors, fields of study, and career paths their children travel down -- similar to that which I have exampled with my own kids? You know my answer... and it's an answer underscored by some sobering facts and numbers of which I've shared with you below:

1. The current cost to send one child to college annually ranges between $23,000 and $45,000 depending upon the type of institution you send him or her to.

2. Over 40 percent of graduates from the nation's top colleges could not find work in their chosen fields.

3. Half of all those young adults who graduated from a four-year college or university are currently working in jobs that don't require four-year college degrees.

4. 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 are out-of-work or under-employed.

5. When they can get jobs, the average starting salary of college graduates graduating from a four-year institution is $45,000.

6. The average debt college kids can expect to walk away with upon exiting college fully breaks down as follows: $35,200 in federal loans; $19,000 private loans; $18,000 in state loans; $13,000 in personal and family loans; and $3,000 in credit card debt.

7. Ninety two percent of college graduates say they will pay back their debt from the income derived from their jobs (if they are amongst the lucky few that can find work). Additional sources cited in cracking that nut include parents and families, savings, and the acquisition of secondary employment. (How interesting! These kids are already dependent upon a second job before they have even secured the first.) Some -- approximately 7 percent -- just won't pay the money back. It's that simple.

8. When asked, half of those students who graduated from four-year programs say that -- given a second chance -- they would have chosen a different major or school.

9. Fifty nine percent of parents provide ongoing financial support to their children after graduation from college -- spanning major living expenses such as housing and transportation to minor ones, including spending money.

10. Coping with a crippling economy and a sour job market (despite all claims to the contrary), families are "surviving" on average median incomes that barely surpass the starting salaries of college graduates ($53,000 per year to be exact). Most families carry debt of at least $117,000 while boasting all of $3,800 in the bank. Add in the average mortgage debt per family of $95,000 and a credit card tab of $2,200 and the direness of the college scenario becomes ever more clear especially when left to the devices of a wide-eyed child who, more times than not, won't fully comprehend how these realities actually translate over time.

No doubt, many parents still feel that a college education is an investment into the future but, given that this is so, I must tell you that I have yet to meet a savvy investor who dropped a wad of cash into the hands of a dreamer whose main point of convincing arose from "a wing and a prayer." Every investor requires adequate "reason" -- underwritten by a solid game plan, a secure and knowledgeable CEO, appropriate assurances and, even, an ongoing "say" in the direction the company chooses to go. Why should parents of college students expect anything less -- given the magnitude and potential impact and extent of their personal investment. Truth-be-told, the majority of college-bound kids are ill-equipped to present such thoughtful, mature thinking moments prior to jumping "head first" into a four-year program that will strain, or sometimes, even strangle a family into financial heartache or ruin. That reality, alone, gives ample reason for parents to take more control over their children's college careers and choices than ever before.

When a child goes to college today, it means the entire family goes to college... both literally and figuratively. It is a monumental commitment for all to undertake. Given the inexperience and lack of maturity of most kids when faced with this commitment, I think it dearly foolish to leave critical decisions such as the choice of majors and potential career paths solely up to them. "Poetry" may sound good but the odds of my kids paying me back or supporting a family on a degree like that are pretty slim -- food for thought for other parents to consider when comparing the educations of their own kids against their shrinking wallets.

Certainly, the day my children figure out how to feed the world those melodic words and turn a dollar in the doing is the day I will eat my own. Until then, my kids must continue to endure a mother hell-bent on supporting them towards their goals of independence and happiness in realistic ways. And if their dreams don't fall within the agreed upon paths, we will commence on the road of capturing those too once my children have laid concrete footing beneath them.

There is no shame in delayed gratification. There is, however, in living with "mama" when you are 30-years-old because you thought you knew it all in college... and you didn't! Just as there is shame for parents who have to sell their house with their kid still living in it. No one wins in either of these two scenarios. Even the family who bought the house loses... as they just bought themselves a squatter (and if you know anything about real estate law today... getting rid of a squatter is a real b-tch)!