(This post is part of the series on postsecondary education.)
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In this post I came to a conclusion about parents' responsibilities toward helping adult children finish their education:
Parents have a certain minimum education and preparation that they owe their kids; if they don't manage to do it by the time the kids are adults, the kids have a right to ask for more help; but adults who are continuing to receive help from their parents to continue their education, rightly continue to be subject to their parents as they were when they were minors.
A lot of what the Church documents go into has to do with religious development and character development, but economics is part of it too. I think these (both from Familiaris Consortio) are the key economic features of a minimum education for a child who may marry :
- it will enable them to "establish their family in favorable...economic conditions." (53)
- it "will... acquaint [them] with correct methods for the education of children, and will assist them in gaining the basic requisites for well-ordered family life, such as stable work, sufficient financial resources, sensible administration, notions of housekeeping" (66)
(I propose to stick, for now, with the case of a child who likely will plan to support a family. We'll get to other vocations eventually.)
I also wrote that (morally rather than legally speaking) a child is emancipated
- when he is accessing what he needs to know
- and is doing what he needs to do
- to fulfill the duties of his vocation,
- and has embarked on independent life.
We can combine these definitions of "necessary education" and "emancipation" to arrive at something like this (economically speaking) for a child who may marry:
Parents must teach the child, or delegate that teaching to another, so that he knows what he needs to know and can do what he needs to do to establish his family in favorable economic conditions. That education must assist him in gaining stable work and sufficient financial resources for supporting a family. It must also assist him in learning to run a household and acquaint him with correct methods of educating children.
I think everyone agrees that parents owe their minor children an adequate education. If all the adequate choices cost money, and the parents can reasonably afford it, then they might reasonably conclude they have a duty to pony up for elementary-school or high-school tuition.
Given that, parents might reasonably conclude that they also have a duty to contribute materially to a child's postsecondary education -- if that postsecondary education will complete the "minimum" education that a child needs. That is, if it will teach him adequate knowledge and skills to establish his family in favorable conditions, to gain stable work, to gain sufficient financial resources, to run a household, and to educate his children.
Here's what's coming up:
- On the theoretical side, I have a post in the works on what it means to have "adequate" skills and knowledge. Not a list of necessary skills and knowledge, but the meaning of "adequate."
- On the cost-benefit side, Mark is working on a guest post (okay, right now it is in the form of several spreadsheets) about the lifetime economic differences between hypothetical sibling pairs, one of whom gets a 4-year college degree, one of whom does not. I got a preview of the data last night. I think you'll find it very, er, educational.
The point of working these things out, both on the theoretical and the practical side, is not that it is foolish or wrong to choose (or to fund) a less-lucrative path if it will make you happier; the point is to make your choices (a) within the bounds of duty to your family and (b) with your eyes open to the range of consequences.