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17 August 2012


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I'll be interested to hear the response to this post. I'm single with no children, but in a serious relationship and my boyfriend and I have vastly different views on this. He and I have a very similar background, working our way through college with minimal help from our parents and minimal student loan debt that we both paid off quickly. He came away convinced that parents have an obligation to provide significant support to college age children. I came away convinced that I learned more about life and responsibility when I had to figure it out myself. Needless to say, we've had a few debates on this one!


I wanted to start this off with a bleg because in informal conversations with my peers (those who have kids, but none in college yet) I am hearing a really, really wide range of theories about this question.

I am particularly interested in how the economic situation we are living in affects the supposedly fundamental principles. I have a theory that back when college cost less, people felt more often confident saying that adult children should make their own way.


I grew up in Minnesota, but my parents did not - their entire extended family is from the East Coast. I believe this heavily impacted their hard and fast rule, which was: You have to leave Minnesota at 18. Full stop.

Going to in-state university was not an option. College itself was optional, though *heavily* preferred, and if we wanted to go they offered to pay for it, but regardless, once we were done with high school, we were out of the house and out of Minnesota. This was their way, I believe, of forcing us to envision a life outside our particular comfort zone. They both love Minnesota - they're still there, 30 years and counting, and probably won't leave - but they also came from different places, moved a lot for work before settling in MN, and wanted to ensure their kids gained a broader view of the world than the Twin Cities - as my mom put it: "You're not allowed to live in my basement and do the same things you did in high school; you're an adult now, go figure it out" (having said all that: now they'd like us to come back, please. :) )

I thought about this when I saw your question "How would you feel about having one or more of your offspring living with you the entire time they were in college?" My gut reaction is: it's not an option. I appreciated what my parents did, and I knew throughout my entire middle school and high school life that once I graduated, I had to have A Plan, and it structured my expectations for post-high school life. I never expected to stay, so leaving was not a hardship. It was a given, and it was a gift.

While some of my parent's perspective comes from ingrained east coast snobbery, I do see their point: I love Minnesota and would love to raise my family there, but at the same time, I've always felt lucky that I've had the experience outside the MN - experiences I don't think I could have gotten (both professionally and personally) had I stayed. I would love to go back, but I'm so glad I left.

As for the optionalality (not a word) of college: Ugh, I don't know. My gut screams YOU HAVE TO GO TO COLLEGE, but my brain knows better. My husband had a successful military career and I do think there is a lot to be said for four years of service instead of college; I think trade schools are hugely underrated and a perfectly valid option and I'd be proud to pay for that on behalf of the kids as well if that was something they felt was their calling. But I do believe, very strongly, that they have to leave the house. There has to be a post high school plan in place, something, anything, that moves them forward. The plan can CHANGE - of course! - but there has to be one. And they have to leave.


(I feel I should clarify: They have to leave the house, but I will help them. I am happy to and prepared to provide any financial assistance (within reason) that is needed to my stepdaughter when she graduates in three [omg] years.)


LizScott: Thanks for such a detailed response! That is exactly the kind of thing I'm hoping to hear back so I can chew on it.

Others? Anyone?


I definitely have thoughts but don't have time to get them down. Can you wait til Monday?


Hmmm. I have to admit that I haven't thought about this tons, since the baby isn't even a year yet. I guess I expect we will stay in Denmark and her education will be free.

My personal experience has two different paths though, as I have two bachelor degrees. I went to public school, then community college while I lived at home, then to Cal where I majored in Slavic languages. My mom paid for it with some inheritance (which she also has done for my sisters). I more or less "had" to go to college because it's The Way Things Are Done in my mom's family.

Right after I was done with my BA I got married, moved to Denmark, and spent a year learning Danish. Then I got a job at an assisted living home. Then I decided to go to nursing school, which is not the University of Copenhagen but a vocational school (you get a vocational bachelor, so you can continue with a masters etc, and are an RN). This is free and I got financial aid and took shifts as a student nurse to earn extra.

The vocational degree is the one I use now (I have to work, unfortunately), and I also feel the quality of the education I got there was better in terms of critical thinking and writing. Not to say it was perfect, but I can't help thinking it's rather droll that it was harder to BS at a vocational school than at Berkeley.

I can't say that I wish I had not gone to university in the US, but the best thing that came out of it was definitely the year abroad! So I definitely agree with the previous poster about getting the heck out of Dodge.


I graduated from College in 1983 and I have two sons age 10 and 12. (We started late.)

We currently homeschool (grades 5 and 7 this year)but are expecting we will enroll our children in a local private Catholic boys High Schools at 9th grade.

I myself attended private College and public professional school. I lived at home during college and dormed for professional school.
I had scholarships and loans for college and worked part time, using that money to pay for almost all my own clothes, entertainment, etc.

I did receive some financial assistance from my parents during professional school as I was not able to keep working due to the educational demands. Most of my tuition and expenses however came from student loans.

My husband's father was a professor at our college and thus his tuition was free. He also lived at home and worked to pay his other expenses.

(We also both were sent to private Catholic high schools by our families.)

We are in a much better financial position than our parents were to pay for our children's education, especially since we have only two (we are each one of the youngest of 5).

On the other hand college and the private high school we are planning on are much more expensive than they were in the 80's.

We fully intend to pay all the expenses for high school. I have no problem with them living home for free during the college years, assuming there are no egregious behavioral issues (drugs, alcohol, bringing home girls - I can't even imagine!).

I do expect them to get part time jobs starting during the high school years and pay for their own "extra" expenses (fancy clothes or shoes, entertainment, cell phone, etc.).

I am also expecting that they will need to take out some hefty student loans depending on their choice of college.

My older son is also seriously considering ROTC and the military (already!)which will relieve a good portion of the college financial burden if he chooses that route.

We also may see if one of us can get a job at one of our local colleges for free or reduced tuition for our kids. (Seriously, that's how the single mother of our Godchildren is paying for their college).

I expect they both will want to go to traditional college but we would not discourage trade school or the military (although would prefer the military with college: ROTC).

If they are not going to school but want to live at home, they would need to work and pay something towards rent. (I think. Haven't really got that far yet.)


I think our society places too much emphasis on the college degree. Not all students need to go nor are well suited for college. Trade schools seem like an under-respected option for some. I value the skills my hairstylist, plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc. provide!!

DH & I both received generous scholarships to a smaller state school and didn't take on any debt. We both worked jobs on campus. My parents gave me a small allowance each month that ended when we got married at 21 (right before senior year). They did provide me with a reliable used car.

We intend to help our kids attend a state school, but a private instituion doesn't seem worth the money to me. I hear of countless lawyers, MBAs, etc. who thought they would be making the "big bucks" to pay off their loans and that hasn't happened. My friend with a PhD in Literature makes about what I did as a new accountant with a BS.

I like the idea of receiving a rich liberal arts education at a private Catholic institution, but I'm afraid that may be a luxury we can't afford nor encourage unless scholarships (not loans) help substantially.


Let's see if I can remember it all - then I'll come back to read everyone else's comments :) Our oldest starts in college in a couple weeks - we're in it now!

Both my dh and I lived at home during our entire college careers. His parents charged him a $50/mo (20 years ago) AFTER he graduated. We got married 6 months after that. We plan to do the same for our kids...if they are in college, trade school, etc. they can live here for free.

Both of our parents helped us. Dh's dad gave him his vacation check every year to help. My parents paid my entire first year then nothing after that. We were both the first in our immediate families to attend college. We are helping out but dd is footing most of the bill through loans and a job. We can't afford to give her any more. Even if we could afford it we wouldn't pay the whole thing - though we would help more than we are now. We both went to school with too many kids whose parents paid and they partied. Not saying everyone is like this...but I do think it's an important part of life...figuring out how to pay for things and get by with what you can. And, I believe it was important for our dd to take into account HER finances when making her decision.

College, trade school, etc.? I think it depends on the person and the job they want in life. It used to be the case that college would provide more income after working a few years. Now it appears there are numerous studies indicating that may not be the case. Either way, we homeschool our highschoolers preparing them to be able to enter college if they choose. That being said, I still prefer they go to college. Both dh and I have 4 yr degrees and there is just much more than straight facts out of a book to be learned while in college. But, although my math major and quantitative methods/computer science degrees are helping me teach my older kids...I think looking back that nursing would have been more useful to me as a mom :)

Our oldest chose a more expensive private college (where both dh and I attended) instead of the university near us. It really is a better fit for her. (She wants to live at home - so her choices were automatically narrowed). She received a good scholarship to the private college and nothing to the university. We planned her PSEO classes to fulfill requirements at this college of choice. She worked hard and in the end will pay pretty close to the same amount for her education at each. It was a challenging decision for her and she spent many hours praying about it. If we were footing the bill would she have done that or just chosen the more expensive school because she always wanted to go there? I know she wouldn't want to waste our money but it's hard to wrap your head around those amounts at the age of 17/18.

I'll be interested to read what you come up with through all these comments :)

Amy F

I'm not stressing too much about college costs because I know my parents have funds set up for each of our kids that would pay the cost of in-state tuition. Our fairly-low salary would probably get them some grants beyond that if they choose private schools and I hope they'd get some merit-based scholarships.

I wouldn't force my kids to go the traditional college route if weren't all that academically-minded or if they wanted a career that a trade school would prepare them well.

I went to the same out-of-state private college that my dad attended (both of us grew up in MN, left for 4 years, then returned to marry and stay here) and was strongly encouraged to go there, or somewhere else far away. I applied to 8 schools and only my fall-back school was within 1000 miles. My husband attended the U of MN's honors program on a combination of loans and scholarships. I don't believe his parents paid any money while he was a student but almost half of the loans were in their name. His youngest sister attended community college off and on, didn't graduate, and still lives at home 10 years later while barely employed.

I think the traditional approach to post-secondary education is going to change in the upcoming decades but I'm not sure if it will happen before my oldest kids get there. I suspect that if unemployment remains high, it will hasten the change since the young are hit hard and can't pay back loans.

I think I'd be okay with my kids living at home during college so long as it didn't seem to be stopping them from moving on with their lives.

My best friend from college is getting her BA in music long distance and many in her program are getting their degrees through the CollegePlus program. She speaks very poorly of it and says most of those kids seem very sheltered and really don't know how to interact with others who don't share their worldview. My parents wouldn't let me participate in PSEO because they wanted me to have a "normal high school experience". I really, really enjoyed my college experience (nerds of the world unite!) and I'd like my kids to experience that too. But if they shaved a year off due to PSEO credits, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing :)


I fear this is one of those topics I could write a book on. We've talked about it quite a bit. Many at length conversations.

I incurred no debts getting my BA. I won a couple sizable scholarships which pretty much covered tuition and my parents paid for room and board and other expenses. To get my MA I took out loans. Then I got a job teaching part time at a local college, making barely enough to pay my bills and make each month's student loan payments. And then I got married and immediately pregnant and as we'd agreed I became a stay-at-home mom and my husband the sole breadwinner. He had extensive student loans of his own. He lost his job right after our first child was born and was under-employed for a full year before he got another full-time job. We got into a massive hole in that year and are very indebted to my parents' generosity which helped to pay off the credit card debt we incurred during that year. Also, my dad took over my student loans and paid them off-- my understanding when I incurred them was that it was my debt, my parents had agreed to put us through college but not grad school.

I do think the economic paradigm has shifted significantly-- or maybe it's just that my perspective has shifted? Where it seemed reasonable to me to take out loans, I now would be very hesitant to encourage one of my children to take on the same debts that I incurred. Looking at the big picture, it's clear to me that college tuition has been inflating and it seems clear to me that we're looking at a higher education bubble similar to the housing bubble. The general economy has had a major downturn and the job market is much less certain. And now I have seen how trying to live on one income while paying off two sets of college loans puts a couple starting off in their married life at a significant disadvantage. I would definitely be looking at the college equation in terms of what kind of job my kids are looking to get after graduation and how long it will take to pay off those debts. I used to think student loans were a necessary evil, now I'm leaning much more toward bad idea. But I'm not completely there yet. I guess I'm a very negative "it depends."

I very much value education for its own sake. Heck, my degrees and my husband's are liberal arts degrees and not at all utilitarian. I would love my children to follow in my footsteps to study literature or theology or history or whatever their hearts desire at whatever small, great books liberal arts college they want. I don't at all regard the time I spent in school as wasted time but in economic terms... I keep wondering how prudent it is.

My parents were very much of the thought that they wanted to pay for school. And I would still love to be able to do that for my kids; but realistically we're in a very different position than my parents. They each worked full time plus had a business on the side. They had four kids spread out over 10 years. We have one income and five kids-- so far-- all very close in age. We aren't going to be able to help them out. I do see a significant value in treating 18 year olds as adults and asking that they pay their way. At the same time I was never good at juggling school and work at the same time. Every time I tried I hit burnout very quickly. So I have a hard time imagining how my kids will be able to pay for school-- especially the kind of private Catholic school I went to-- without getting into a massive debt hole that could take them decades if not a lifetime to get out of.

I do think that parenting doesn't stop when a kid turns 18. I would hope to be able to offer not only financial support but also practical encouragement and other kinds of material support. I do wish my parents had been better at shepherding me through the college application process. They were there to pay the bills but were otherwise very hands off. I had to find the schools and do all the applications all by myself and I found the whole process very overwhelming. I managed to stumble into a great school where I really fit in but it could so easily have become a disaster. Dare I say I feel like my parents were too confident of my abilities and didn't realize I needed and wanted more emotional support?

I'm not very comfortable with the idea of kids living at home through college. I think it is good for them to have a physical separation to learn independence. If my college age or post-college child was living at home, I definitely think they would be expected to contribute substantially to the household maintenance.

I am much less attached to the idea that my kids should go to college. I think it is very, very good for some individuals and not at all right for others. I think it is very much a matter that should be discerned for each individual. I'm the only one of my siblings to attend college right after high school and to graduate in four years. One of my brothers has never finished college, another has an associates degree. Both have good jobs in the high-tech industry, and are mainly self-taught. My time teaching at a state college definitely affected my opinions about who should attend college. I saw so many of my students who I thought would have been much happier and better suited for a trade school or some other path. Many of them were only in college to get a piece of paper that would get them a job. I have very little patience for a strictly utilitarian approach to higher education with no love for learning. These kids should have been working at real jobs and learning real skills not goofing off pretending to be students. Higher education should be for people who really enjoy education for its own sake or who truly need extensive schooling in order to reach a specific career goal. This idea that college is some kind of way station between high school and a job for kids who want to party degrades the whole enterprise.

Barbara C.

My parents believed the propaganda a college degree (in almost anything) automatically equaled a "high-paying career". (My mom never went to college, and my dad had an associate's degree that he was encouraged to get through his job.) I grew up with the expectation that I would go to college and that I should try to get as much scholarship money as possible.

Now I have a sister that is ten years older than me. My parents could not afford to send her to her first-choice private college. She went to the local state university and lived at home, but she dropped out of college after being derailed at the end of her freshman year by a really bad car accident. My parents later paid for her to go to a private college, but she barely completed one semester. Then she blamed my parents for "forcing her to go to college" and not paying for her first choice school.

When it was my turn, I was determined to go away for college in order to get away from a stressful family situation. My parents required that I stay within a one-state radius of my home state (Kentucky). I applied to three colleges.

The private college gave me their largest scholarship that barely covered one year of tuition. I think my parents were relieved when I went for the campus visit and lost interest. I loved IU, but they didn't give me a dime of scholarship money.

And my safety in-state school (my high school guidance counselor made me pick one in-state school) gave me a full scholarship (tuition, room, $400 for books per year) just based on my ACT scores. My parents would have gone into debt to send me to IU after the fiasco with my sister, but that seemed silly when I had a free ride somewhere else.

My parents continued to pay for all of my living expenses, vehicles (I had to have my car replaced twice thanks to aging and mother nature), and car insurance. All in all, though, I think their expenses during my four years of college were less than my living expenses and Catholic school tuition previously. Right after I graduated they stopped paying for my living expenses and car insurance. I did work part-time in college to pay for extra things I wanted (partying, trips, etc).

My husband was a non-traditional college student who got a Pell grant for his undergrad. Then he got a t.a. position in graduate school that covered the first two semesters of tuition. Then his mom paid for the last semester.

I will be preparing my kids to attend college. But if they have determined another career path that does not require college, I would be fine with that. I will also be giving my kids more general financial preparation than I ever received (I highly recommend "Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers".)

My husband teaches at a community college, and our kids would be eligible for discounted tuition. I expect we will take advantage of that some while they are still in high school, and it would be a viable option to keep in mind.

I am hoping, though, that they will get good scholarships. I do expect that we would help out with some tuition and living expenses, but with five kids we just won't be able to afford to give everyone a free ride. And I will not go into debt to fund their college.

There are a lot of things that I learned to do for myself by going away to college, but I think that was partly because I wanted to be independent. I didn't want to go home every weekend to have mom do my laundry. I saw many people who did, though. And a lot of my friends who lived at home and went to local colleges seemed to live a life of "high school continued". They didn't meet as many new people or have as many new learning experiences as I and the other friends who went away to school did.

So, part of me would like my kids to get that experience of kind of being on their own before completely being on their own. On the other hand, living at home might be a more affordable option if scholarships do not come through. Plus, there is something to be said for keeping your kids closer to home in hopes that if they meet their future spouse it will be someone who is also from the area, making it maybe more likely that they won't get married and move off far away. (Even though, my husband and I had to move away from our home state in order for him to get a good job in his chosen career.)

I think it is one of those things that we will have to take on a case by case basis with each kid. Although I think the one-state radius rule is a good one. I am already planning to set up monthly meetings starting in 8th grade to start discerning about college, because it would also effect how we homeschool high school.

Of course, I also plan on seriously encouraging the discernment of a religion vocation...learning about different orders, visiting some of them. That's a whole other kettle of fish to consider.

One of the perks of living in the Chicago suburbs is that we have a ton of colleges and universities in the area as well as some various women's religious orders. (I think my oldest daughter might fit well with the Daughters of St. Paul if she discerned a religious calling.)

I expect, though, that as long as our kid is in some sort of vocational training/college they would be allowed to live at home rent-free until they graduated. After that,though, I would expect some kind of rent if they lived at home and for them to handle all of their other expenses.

Jennifer Fitz

For both Jon & I, our parents expected us to go to college, to pick a school in-budget, and they would pay a share and we would work summers to contribute our share.

We're inclined to do essentially the same thing. As long as the kid is making progress (working at both school and/or job, in whatever combination the season calls for) towards an agreed-upon goal, I'm happy to help them with housing, tuition, whatever.

If the kid develops an irresponsibility complex, then he's on his own.

For our kids, college is the obvious choice -- not because it's on only acceptable way, but because they're smart and capable. But we'll see when they're 18 what the options are, and what seems like the best way to fulfill their vocation.

LeeAnn B

My late husband and I both were expected to go to four year university and did, taking out federal student loans to do so. For complicated personal reasons, neither of us finished and got a BA (he did get an AA), despite five years or so of classes. While our studies were personally enriching, they had nothing to do with any job held after leaving school and the debt is a thirty year burden.

This experience left us more ambivalent about our own children attending college. I would be equally happy with them choosing religious vocation, starting a business (since getting a job right out seems nigh impossible these days for a kid with only high school diploma) going to college or entering the military.

My oldest is just starting high school. She's creative, artistic, musical and writes stories. I don't know what her path will be yet. I feel that college degrees are a dime a dozen these days and I'd prefer she earned a scholarship to prove her worthiness of a higher education. So many spend more on university than can be paid off in the profession they prepare for...that is hard cold truth. I hate to say it, because I love the academic life.

I guess I have a certain amount I am willing to spend on getting each child started in life, whether that goes for tuition or a wedding or seed money for business. I don't expect they will leave the house at 18. That seems rare these days and cruel to expect when we know so many adults without full employment. My expectation is that they be productive and contribute to the household, financially as they are able but through other work in the house and yard and caring for younger siblings. That's about as far as I've thought it out!


This is a topic that my husband and I have spent a lot of time discussing. I think we have to admit that it is common to look down on those who didn't go to college because it is a middle class rite of passage. I think we need to treat each of our children as individuals and help them to get the best education needed to provide for a family or for themselves.

It is so common these days for people to come out of college with a huge amount of debt and a liberal arts degree that doesn't prepare them for any specific job. I know so many people who majored in History or English but didn't want to teach and ended up working in retail. They have a lot of debt, they probably married someone with a lot of debt, and now they can't buy a house, have a stay-at-home parent for their family, or join a religious order because of their educational debt. Most of them would have been financially better off going to a trade school.

There are a lot of ways to make college possible including academic scholarships, ROTC, and pursuing an alternative educational route such as working and going to school part time. I think that online degrees are starting to be accepted because it shows a lot of discipline and initiative to go to school while working full time.

We live in a rural area so commuting to school is probably not a possibility for our kids. But we could make it work if we needed to.

I guess I see our role as parents to help them to make good decisions so that they end up being independent adults. When I worked in financial aid I helped many students take out $100,000 in loans to get an anthropology degree. That is not a good decision. I am not at all inclined to the STEM degrees, but I also got a good scholarship (although I see that Barbara C, my college roommate, had a better one than I did!). I got a useless degree, but I had no debt. My parent would say to do what you love because money is not important. I would say, do what you love if you get a good scholarship, but double major in business since you don't like math or science. Constantly worrying about debt and having enough money for basic needs adds so much stress to a marriage. You can learn so much on your own at home, or go back to school when you are older to pursue a degree that you love.

As we start looking at high school one thing that we are considering is having our kids take some electives at the trade school. Welding or being an electrician pays a lot better than retail, and while they might not have time to get completely certified while taking a pre-college courseload, it will give them exposure to a trade, and give them more options for the future.


I forgot to write in my comment that being older helped me get more out of my second degree. Not because I was a party animal or a slacker for the first one, but I didn't know what I wanted to study, or use my degree for, or what I wanted to do with my life at all. So I just sort of kept going to school. It took me six years to get a BA I now don't use at all. With my second degree I had a goal (become a nurse) and I just barreled right on through, it takes 3 and a half years here, and I had a job lined up before I graduated. So having a plan definitely helps.

Also, I recommend nursing as a profession for those who have a humanities bent but don't have a plan and are trying to avoid waffling around and ending up with a literature degree. It is very philosophical (or can be, at least) and immensely practical, both in the sense of hands-on and in the sense of useful.


My parents were both dead before I was out of high school, but they definitely expected both my brother and I to go to college. We were a poor family in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so going away to college was really the only option. I am pretty sure they expected us to get scholarships.

I did not go to college as soon as I graduated from high school. I took 3 years off, worked and saved to make two trips to Europe before I went to a state university at 21. Got my BS in chemistry and have been working in that field ever since.

I have two grown daughters who both went to college straight out of high school and both got nursing degrees. I did expect them to go to college, and I am glad that they did (nursing is one of those degrees that make economic sense). I would say that if you want to study something that is not likely to repay you in actual dollars, that it would be better to go to a trade school first. After you begin working and making some money, you could then study in your spare time. I am a big fan of education that is not driven by the job market.

My older daughter went out of state to a 4 year school. (At the time, she was planning on an engineering degree.) Mainly financed by student loans. Her loans were paid off within 5 years of graduation as were her new husband's (chemical engineer).

My younger daughter went to a state university in our hometown and lived at home for all four years. I did not even consider charging her rent. She did help out around the house. She has only a minimal amount of student loan debt and is now going to graduate school for family nurse practitioner. She is a GTA, so her tuition is paid, and she continues to work part-time as a nurse to pay her living expenses.

I probably would have helped more with tuition if I had been in a better financial situation, but I'm not sure that I would want to fit the whole bill. I think it is good for young people to have at least some responsibility for making and spending their own money. No parent "owes" their children a college education, but it is good to help out if you can.

Barbara C.


I may have had the better scholarship, but you have proven yourself to be much wiser than me over and over again through the years. ;-)


I remember one of these discussion in previous years about the recommendation of having kids, especially daughters, learn how to cut hair. Besides being a career that offers flexible hours, a ton of money could be saved by cutting their own family's hair.


Barbara, all you need to learn to cut hair is a set of Wahl clippers and some brave boys!

(I cut everybody's hair except my own. I only messed up Mark's hair once.)


1) different economic paradigm?

I sure hope it is different than it is now. My oldest is about seven so we have a little while for the bubble to burst. I started college in 1995 which is right at the beginning of the crazy tuition hikes. I had workstudy scholarships and my parents made good money so I left school with no debt. At this point I have zero expectations that I will ever make close to what my parents make. We probably save over the course of a year the amount we should be saving monthly towards college, so I'm not sure what we will end up doing. I don't like the idea of college loans.

2)who pays?

When I was younger, I definitely thought that parents should pay the kids way. My parents thought the same thing. They had to work through college and didn't want us to go through the same. Now that I'm older and don't see the money from which I could pay for college, I'm less inclined to the view that tuition is 'owed.' I don't think parents should hollow out their own retirement to send their children to college. So I think parents should help and maybe help a lot, but there is a limit and the student needs to make up the difference.

3) When does it stop?

As long as the student is holding up his end of the bargain with grades and non-crazy living, I think the parents should offer help for several years. I think that probably by age 23 the child should be completely launched.

4) Where do they live?

I think I would be comfortable with them living with me generally, but I also think a good deal of the benefit of college is *going* to college. How are you going to conduct yourself without supervision? Also we would need rules about coming and going and at what hours that might be troublesome.

5) college at all?

As a college graduate, I am attached to the idea of my children going to college. I do see merit to taking a year to work first or joining the military (my brother could have used that). My parents are extremely attached to the idea of college. There was never an option for us not to go. We would be going. Period. I am not as devoted to the idea as they are and financial realities are different now, but college is a fine place for a young person to first stretch his wings.

The problem with college right now is they present themselves as job programs and then fill students into unemployable majors. If the students had an idea of what their education actually was, the situation would be tolerable. But as it is, many colleges just out and out lie about job prospects and leave the students holding the bag.


Coming back to make a few observations after reading everyone else's comments here.

1. I have a big problem with (rad visceral aversion to) treating college in a strictly utilitarian light. I think there is much to be said for the traditional liberal arts education, which was never designed to prepare one for a job but to help one realize one's full potential as a human being. We are meant to be more than workers, we are meant to be thinkers and lovers. Literature and philosophy and history are all designed to lead us to contemplation of the Good, Beautiful and True. In other words, to help us draw closer to God.

2. Unfortunately that idea is in direct opposition to the current American cultural norm, which is the expectation that college exists to prepare one for the job market.

3. How do you resolve that tension? This is where I think stepping back to look at the Church's teaching may help. But it's still going to be a prudential decision. What we want for our children is the best of everything. We want them to be financially stable and to have a good career. But as Catholics we also want to see them reach their fullest potential as individuals. What happens when those goals seem to be irreconcilable? The fact is the kind of education I received is impractical from a utilitarian perspective and yet hardly a day goes by that I don't thank God for the blessing of a good education that did more than just prepare me for work but helped to form my character and my intellect. Had I played it safe and gone to a state school and got a practical degree instead of going to a Catholic great books school and getting a liberal arts degree, I think I would be a far poorer person.


Melanie: How about trying to acquire a solid liberal arts education in high school, or less expensively in the form of self-teaching -- without credential -- for a couple of years between high school and beginning a practical, job-oriented degree?

Does a good liberal arts education have to come with a piece of paper?


Oh I just got to the question about doing it in high school at the end of the comment I left on the philosophical-vocational training post.

I don't at all think it has to come with a piece of paper. The biggest difficulty I see is not in the credentialing-- That isn't at all important now except as a ticket to a job, right?-- but in the aspect of a classical university as a community of thinkers. I think that the classical liberal arts education is not just a matter of reading the right books but a course of study that happens as much after class hours in late night discussions over coffee or beer as it does in the classroom. I know that was very much true of my undergraduate and graduate studies. It was a conversation about poetry in the back corner at a party that led to a pivotal part of my junior project on Eliot. It was arguments about philosophy over pints of beer and discussions about theology late at night in the dorm lounge that have stuck with me more and were in some ways more transformational than any lectures or in-class discussions. And yet I think you do need both the formal academic setting and the informal after-class camaraderie. (I think it might have been C.S. Lewis who said something about the university being as much about the conversation that happens in the pub as in the lecture hall; but I can't find the quote.)

For me a big part of it too is that sense of separation from the family and stepping forth into the world on one's own, making your own way intellectually. It does take a certain level of maturity, which American high schools don't tend to foster but perhaps homeschooled students could be much better prepared for that kind of challenge?

So then how do we as homeschooling parents help to provide our students with teachers, mentors, peers and the freedom-- perhaps a better word might be leisure-- to pursue that kind of rigorous inquiry?

I think it probably can be done. I'm thinking high school should be less focused on the family and much more focused on setting forth into the broader world. After all the medieval university was not at first a place but a collection of people. Perhaps what I'm really envisioning is a return to that idea of a university and that experience.

I envision a future in which the piece of paper one needs is not the university degree but a much more specific sort of qualification either for a particular trade or profession. That the university degree became the default meal ticket to a job seems to be to be the most problematic element of our current system of post-secondary education.



I am glad you bring up the coffee and beer, because you're right that there's a great deal of value in the university as a place where young people are thrown together in a context where learning and growing are expected, but there is enough freedom to find their own way and to find intellectual camaraderie. And sometimes this happens at the parties.

At least, there is a lot of potential value. How many 18-23-year-old university students are really getting that? And is there a cheaper way to get there?


I taught as a state college and I do know that none of the kids I taught there were getting that. I suspect that kind of experience is actually pretty rare in American universities and colleges. And the few schools that do support that aren't cheap. I suppose what I'm really getting at is that what I think would be the ideal isn't really readily available but is perhaps something that needs to be worked toward. Perhaps there is a need for a new post-secondary option. Something that isn't exactly homeschooling college but is closer to that than the typical university experience with its hefty price tag and all. Perhaps what we're experiencing in terms of post-secondary education is what the pioneers of the homeschooling movement felt a few decades ago. Though it is far easier to just plop your kids down at the kitchen table with some books than it is to create a university-style environment for teens.

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