Why You SHOULDN’T Pay for Kids’ College

For anyone who’s ever filled out a college application (or helped their children complete the endless questions and essays), you know how arduous the process can be. And anyone who’s spent even a semester attending classes, running to T.A. sessions up, hunkering down in testing centers, you know how rigorous university life is. Education can provide a powerful boost to our lives, and preparing our children for that education is something parents focus on (and fret about). But here’s something else, equally as important, that parents should consider during that college-prep time of life. It’s a tenet I fully believe in: You should NOT be paying for your child’s college education.

When I offer up this advice to audiences across the country, I usually hear a few gasps, maybe even boos in the crowd. But when I go on to frame education funding from an empowerment versus entitlement perspective, the audience begins to understand.

It all goes back to a principle I share in my latest book, Entitlement Abolition. It’s a habit that’s fundamental to living responsible, abundant lives: taking ownership for your own life.

Think about it. What’s the difference when you take ownership for something versus just use it? The last time you rented a car—did you wash and wax it before returning it? Did you worry if your water bottle spilled? Probably not. But what about your own car? My guess is you run that vehicle to the car wash regularly, and if you have a spill, you’re quick to grab a towel and mop it up.

Why? Because it’s yours. You’re making the monthly payments. You’re insuring it. And you want it to last. The same holds true for education. When your children take ownership for paying for their college education, things shift. The education is no longer “something they deserve,” along with a nice juicy career that “the world owes them” at the end of the degree; it’s something they are investing in. They’re putting some skin in the game. And the accountability is powerful.

Now am I proposing they take out all kinds of traditional student loans? Not if you have the means to be the bank (or they are motivated to pursue academic, athletic or leadership scholarships). If you have the resources, then YOU can become the lender, with a low interest rate they can pay over a reasonable amount of time. Your children write up the contract, put the plan in place and carry it through.

What if they run into tough times and can’t pay? Then the contract should have “alternative payment methods” written in, whereby they can provide another means of repayment, such as providing maintenance for your home or second home, or bookkeeping for your business, or something that adds value.

My wife and I both worked our way through college. I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Sharee worked at a bookstore. I did earn scholarships, as did she. But we worked twenty-five to thirty hours a week while in school and had excellent study habits because we had to budget our time. By comparison, many of our friends got very poor grades because their parents just constantly shelled out the tuition, fees, room and board.

Hence, Sharee and I, when raising our six children, decided that we would never lead them to believe that we would pay for their college education. We provided equal opportunities. If they got a scholarship or they saved, we would match it, even for a semester abroad. But they had to go abroad with purpose—to study and get As—not just to vacation.

In an upcoming article, I’ll share how my daughter Ashley leveraged our family’s approach to education for once-in-a-lifetime educational experiences, using strategies that you may want to adopt (and adapt) for your own family.

In the meantime, consider how you can start applying the principles of ownership and responsibility in your family’s life—it can make a world of a difference, not just in education, but in every aspect of your future abundance.