Who’s The Fool?

Switching gears from the slog of politics (did everyone see the latest Rasmussen poll that had congressional approval down to just 6 percent? The president looks absolutely presidential compared to these numbers) I thought I would throw out a moral conundrum to the group, one where pretty much everyone should have an opinion one way or the other.

We have had a few posts of late slamming higher education and calling into question the relative worth of a sheepskin compared to the actual cost in obtaining it. The cacophony proclaiming it as ill advised, too expensive, and not necessary got me to thinking what the usual critics would do concerning their kid who is experiencing it firsthand.

My son graduates high school this Saturday (yea), naturally this fact is hitting his mother much harder than it is me, another biological difference between the sexes. Where she looks at it in sadness, the little bird leaving the nest, I look at it with excitement, he is becoming a man and must pursue manly endeavors. I get that the bond between mother and son (only child) is different from that of father and son.

A little background. He is not quite a 4.0 student, but real close. His interests now involve the scientific field possibly leading to some future avocation in medicine. He got a bad case of senioritis this year (girls, sports, hanging out) and his grades dropped a bit but he already got accepted to a number of good schools, ultimately accepting a local private Jesuit school that is very highly ranked nationally and has an almost 100 percent placement record after graduation in his particular field. He is not particularly mechanically inclined, hence no directional pull to a vocational skill like car mechanics, or contracting. He wants to go to college, all of his friends are going to college and I think he gets the major transition of college life, living in a dorm and being a self motivator.

Now comes the moral dilemma. By what method should I choose to finance his education? Over the years I have prepared for college and could easily cut a check to the college to take care of all 4 years and it would not present a hardship for me. OTOH, student loans are plentiful, why not load him up with student debt, then have a significant amount of that debt removed by Obama and his student debt forgiveness plan that is tucked away in his budget?

The program already allows most borrowers with loans issued since October 2007 to make payments equal to 10 percent of their income after taxes and basic living expenses. After 20 years of on-time payments, or 10 years for people working in public or nonprofit jobs, the rest of the balance is forgiven.

Isn’t that what all those OWS folks were complaining about, that someone put a gun to their head and made them take out all those loans for their expensive education, it just doesn’t seem fair that they would be expected to, you know, pay it all back, they’re only a kid forchrisakes.

If the tax payers are ultimately going to have to fit the bill for student debt, what kind of a chump would I be to pay for it now, knowing that my obligations for other kid’s debt will be coming due in the future? I don’t see the benefits of being responsible here and paying for something that the government will provide for free, or partially free, if I hold out long enough. It’s free money lying there on the ground, shouldn’t I pick it up? It’s like having a credit card where you pay a penalty for paying your bill on time, the penalty of which is reduced the longer you do not pay your bill, with the balance ultimately waived at the end.

One of the advantages of growing up poor is having a revulsion for debt. Having never had a car loan and paying off my house within the first 5 years of purchase, I absolutely hate owing people. It would probably be a nice lesson for the kid to once securing a job with a salary, to have to pay a portion back for his education. But we have talked about this, it is understood that the expense of his education is a loan, which is to be paid back in full to his children when they go to college, an obligation that he gets to put off for a while.

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  1. bgeek

    My parents weren’t able to foot the bill for undergrad at a mid size-state university, but I was able to live at home for a few years and they paid for my books the last two semesters. Knowing they wouldn’t be able to pay early on, I worked my ass off the last two years of high school improving my mediocre grades and participating in extracurricular activities to improve my prospects for scholarships, which ended up covering about 3/4 of the tuition and fees. The remainder, about $2000 a year, was earned through a 30hr/week job. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without staying at home, though. Grants and loans were a little harder to come by in 1998, especially for a middle class white male, unlike my brother in 2003 and beyond.

    If possible, my wife and I are planning to pay for part or all of our two kid’s educations, although we’re not sure on how we’ll structure it yet (we have a few ideas). The first idea consisted of a matching system, we’ll match 1:1 however much he/she would be able to afford with no strings attached. The second would consist of paying for the majority/all of the bill, but we’ll have a few stipulations like grades will need to be very good and the major of study will need to be one that requires at least two calculus classes. If they want to do music, art, english, etc., they would need to foot more of the bill (unless they’re some kind of prodigy or piano virtuoso). They can stay at home for as long as they’re in school with reasonable grades unless they become assholes or something.

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  2. richtaylor365 *

    I have mentioned this before I think but parents should open up a 529 plan as early as they can. I did this for my kid the year he was born.

    Laying some ground rules (stipulations) is always wise. Maintaining a certain degree of academic excellence, checking in on a regular basis, working over the summer, the fact that he is still a dependent, (dependent of his parents providing for him) is not lost on him.

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  3. Miguelito

    The second would consist of paying for the majority/all of the bill, but we’ll have a few stipulations like grades will need to be very good and the major of study will need to be one that requires at least two calculus classes. If they want to do music, art, english, etc., they would need to foot more of the bill (unless they’re some kind of prodigy or piano virtuoso). They can stay at home for as long as they’re in school with reasonable grades unless they become assholes or something.

    Hah.. that’s pretty much the deal my parents had with my sister and I. I lived at home a bit longer then I probably should’ve but was able to buy my house and go straight from home with parents to my own house when I was 28. I could’ve afforded to rent for the last couple years but between being super busy at my new job at the time (still there 15-1/2 years now) and saving up for a downpayment, they were ok with me there, which was very little really, mostly just to sleep.

    To tie back to your initial thoughts, even at 28 my mom saw it as her baby leaving the nest when I moved (I’m the younger child). Thankfully my sister was traveling to London and Paris with a friend and my parents were watching her kids which kept her occupied. :)

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