Friday, March 29, 2013

Paying for College

Education is an investment in your future and increases future earnings – it’s always worth every penny.  This seems to be the prevalent and accepted view of college and higher education.  There’s a counter-current, however, as people question the rising cost of university, and the incredible burden teenagers are signing themselves up for when they take on student loans.  And then you have the chorus of ever-practical (grumpy?) folks who claim that young adults should not be spoiled by having their education paid for, and that putting yourself through college builds character and life skills.  They argue that so many people waste their advantages, go to college on their parents’ dime, and then make nothing of themselves.

I feel really strongly that if I have kids, I will pay for their undergrad years at college.  My parents, being amazing, have provided me with many opportunities, and paying for my college was a huge one!  I want to pay their kindness forward, and give any future kids the same benefits I had.  But – while I feel my education’s value is immeasurable, while I am a much improved more eloquent more confident woman because of it, while I met one of the most important people in my life (my boyfriend) at school – is it right or is it necessary for education to cost 50K/year?

I’m not arguing that people who consider or attend an expensive, private college over a cheaper state school are silly or making a bad decision, or that they shouldn’t have that choice.  Some forms of merit or need-based aid from university and government loans open opportunities and schooling options for people, which is fantastic.  I truly do believe that a better-educated society is a better one.  But boy, do I feel awful for those who signed themselves up for tons of school debt as kids, possibly to get a degree that isn’t financially lucrative.  When everyone around trumpets that investing in yourself, investing in education, is the best investment you can make – it’s easy to not give much thought to how future-you will struggle paying off loans.  Or whether the comparable, less-expensive options are necessary to consider.

How was your college paid for?  Do you feel strongly that parents should or shouldn’t pay?  I’ve realized there are way more options than I could see at the time – it felt like I needed to go to a good college, that there was no other path to life.  But college right out of high school isn’t the only option.  Am I preaching to the choir or do you disagree?


  1. I don't feel strongly about whether parents should pay or not. I do feel strongly about parents talking through options with their kids so they understand what they are signing up for. I think its a disservice to kids when parents tell them they can "do anything they put their minds to" without being realistic about potential careers and future earnings.

    My parents set aside the same amount for all of my siblings and I. We could go to any school we wanted, with the understanding that we would end up paying some ourselves if we went somewhere expensive (CMU...). For some of my brothers, it covered everthing, I ended up getting a combination of loans, scholarships and jobs to cover the rest.

    I think this was a good balance - they set aside enough that I didn't feel pressured into a low-cost school, but they also didn't just write me a blank check for whatever I wanted to do. It's also a good feeling to know that I am partially responsible for earning my education.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Josh -- the way your parents dealt with paying for college definitely sounds awesome. It's both fair and reasonable, and gives you the ultimate ownership over picking/paying for college :)

      The 'you can do anything you put your mind to' phrase really, really irks me. First, I don't actually think that everyone can succeed at any job, so I don't think it's true. And I totally agree that being realistic is key -- I knew someone in HS who was in remedial math (and hated math), who last I heard was majoring in engineering at college. To me, that was odd ... I hope she at least was realistic about what she was getting herself into, and hopefully it worked out.

    2. I think "you can do anything you put your mind to" is a very important mindset to instill in children and even adults. Most failure comes from thinking you can't. To take it to the extreme -- most evil comes from a belief that you can't do good.

      I think what irks you is that most people stop listening -- or stop speaking, even -- at "you can do anything." It's the second part that makes a difference in practice. "Being realistic about potential careers and future earnings" is just one part of putting your mind to it.

  2. I never wanted to go to college, I was pretty close to joining the US Air Force but I went because my parents wanted me to. So I took Electrical Engineering because it was always something I was interested in and at Stevens that is about 50-55 K a year interest. When I first attended there everyone asked why I did choose such an expensive school, I got into NJIT for free, but it didn’t matter. I believed that Stevens was the right choice and I had the confidence in my abilities. I knew I would be able to pay off my loans when I got out so it was really no big deal to me.
    I have to pay for all my school expenses unlike a lot of people, I do not resent my parents for this. They do what they can and I am sure my parents would help pay if they could but that was never really an option. I am basically done paying college off anyways. As for what I will do for my kids, I will probably not outright pay for my kid’s colleges, I would help them based on merit but they wouldn’t get a free ride. When you enter college you should have the confidence to know that no matter what career path you take you will be able to make the money needed to support yourself and the decisions you make on the way.
    As for this random depart into the analysis of the phrase ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’ I have a few comments. Unless you have some severe handicap, I believe that anyone could do anything. I have seen the most unexpected people step up to problems way beyond them and solve them and the most disadvantaged students be the best by miles. I believe that passion drives us all to do what we want to do in life and as long as you have a resilient passion for some activity you will be able to succeed at any job and any problem, no matter what personality or education you have. That to me is the most realistic thing on God’s green earth.

    1. Wow, never knew you almost joined the Air Force -- very cool. I definitely understand the desire to go to a better (even if more expensive) school. And congrats on paying off most of your loans, that's super impressive!

      Do you think there's a limit to 'you can do anything', though? Like, is it productive to for instance encourage someone our age (or 40+ with kids) who has never taken calculus to be an engineer? Sure, some such people are capable and possibly didn't have opportunities and that's the reason for their late start, but aren't there other (more realistic) options to consider as well?

      I agree that interest & persistence will get you very far -- my persistence and hard work is the #1 reason I did well in college, as there were tons of other smart (& smarter) people around, so I certainly don't think I was innately smarter or better than others. In my experience, I've heard 'you can do anything you want' thrown out as an empty platitude, and I mostly worry that it will lead to a lot of bitter, disappointed people who could have used a dose of reality to go with the optimism. And how far do you take the concept? 'You can do anything -- you can be a singer' -- sure, you can be a singer doing local gigs as a side hustle, but the odds of becoming a famous pop singer are pretty slim. Shouldn't people get an honest dose of reality so they can make a conscious and informed choice before pursuing such a hard path?

      I guess I think that in elementary/middle/early high school it makes sense to build people up and push them to achieve whatever they want. But by the end of HS/college a reality check can be really helpful. Agree/disagree?

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. "Education is an investment in your future and increases future earnings – it’s always worth every penny."

    Yes. Key word is "education", which does not necessarily equal college diploma. I think the biggest benefit of college for the majority of students is structure. You can get a good education on your own by reading books and the World Wide Web -- but will most high school graduates? Or will they waddle through minimum wage jobs until they realize 15 years later that they need to LEARN? If their mind survives that long.
    The second biggest benefit of college is being surrounded by other smart students. This is harder to replace, short of hanging around at a college you don't actually attend.
    Are these things worth $70K/yr (including some opportunity cost)?
    For someone applying to college, another question to ask: does this college deliver these things?

    My mother put in all she could afford toward my college expenses. The rest was loans. I think parents should try to pay for college, but make sure the kids know the numbers.

    1. I wish I could 'like' your comment. I agree with everything you said!

  4. Well let me paint a picture. We are all going to die and assuming life on earth continues on while we are gone, on the high level, does it really matter if we spent our lives working towards doing the ‘anything’ we want or rather living out our lives realistically. I have never read of anyone in the history books which was praised for being amazingly realistic, you only read about people who took chances and did what others thought was impossible. My goal is not to be in the history books per say but I do strive to do something interesting. If you do not explore the passion or desires you have to be something then how will you know that it wasn’t who you are meant to be. There are many famous actors and artist who did not find their true callings until late in their lives I’m sure when they started it was not realistic and the whole industry was basically against them. In response to that, I say fuck realism! If you go out there and try you’re hardest and if your flame is still burning on after many failures I think that it is more than fair to still pursue your dreams, in fact you should get some sort of medal.
    Of course there is the ever looming responsibilities which plague all ambitious people, I believe that you can have your cake and eat it too. As long as you do your due diligence, you must plan out and actively work for the ingredients, the preparation, baking time and of course the actual act of eating the said cake. If you have kids you have to work hard to attend to their needs as well as your own, sure it is hard; life is hard! But if you believe that life is not worth living without that passion then you must work hard for it and maybe one day it will be a reality, the point is we have an expiration date and we all have a mind which is capable of amazing works, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we should be pursuing greatness whatever we think that is.

    1. So, let's say there was a shipwreck, and not everyone survived. Let's say some people (who survive) are really vocal when they get back, saying this is all thanks to praying before the journey, and that God saved them. You might think they had something right, since they all survived. But all those people who prayed and then still drowned aren't around to tell you about it. So I think there's a similar situation around people who are successful and take chances that pay off -- there are probably a lot of people with crummy lives who are barely making it after spending so much money, effort, and time trying to make it as an actor.

      'It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we should be pursuing greatness whatever we think that is. ' <- completely agree with this. I'm not trying to be a hater (it just happens naturally, I guess ;))

    2. Don’t worry about being a hater, this isn’t my first time on the internet.

      I believe you missed the intrinsic difference between what you are saying and what I am saying. Regarding your rebuttal, “there are probably a lot of people with crummy lives who are barely making it after spending so much money, effort, and time trying to make it as an actor.” Breaking your statement down you say that there are probably a lot of people with crummy life’s [who are actors]. Well let me put some words to that.

      In life there are a lot of options I believe that the option which gives you happiness is the option you should pursue. What is the definition of a ‘crummy life’? If I am happy but poor I would not consider my life crummy. I would consider it better than most. I am saying that those who pursue what they love and want to do should because it will bring them happiness and fulfillment. As I previously said that yes if you do go into something that is low paying you will have to work hard to support both your ambitions and your lifestyle. I do not believe that working hard, physically or mentally, makes one’s life crummy. Some people take years to learn what some can in months, is it fair to say not to do something just because it takes them longer to accomplish or because they realized it later in life?

      With one success there are always a million who have failed and I agree you don’t usually hear about the failures. I am glad we do not hear about the failures because failures are just perceived limits. Just because you failed a million times does not mean you will not succeed the million and one time. It is unjust to discount an unlikelihood, a probability above 0 always seems to have a way of occurring.

      The only limit you have is yourself, it wouldn’t be wise to let others limit you to.