I remember my dad saying to me many years ago that he would pay for my college education because he felt it was important for me to start my adult life debt-free. I wish I would’ve taken him up on that free bachelor’s degree. I left college before finishing.

Shortly after having our first child, Jeremy and I were talking with friends who had also just had a child. Our friend announced that their daughter would be responsible for her own college education. I thought it was weird that the decision was already being made. But it got me thinking about what we would do for our child. It didn’t take me long before I said to Jeremy, “I think we need to pay for Isaac’s college education.” I didn’t really know what I was saying because I didn’t know what the cost would become. But I said it anyway and I kept saying it even after we had kid #2.

As a stay-at-home parent, I often heard, “That’s so great you can afford to stay home.” The thing is, we really couldn’t afford it if you compared our life to the lives of those who were saying this to me. They had bigger houses, nicer cars, fancier vacations, and much better summer camps for their kids to attend. We were regularly reminded how we couldn’t really afford to be a single income household, and yet we made it work. I knew the sacrifices we were making were worthwhile. Summer vacations and sick days weren’t an issue. The pace of our lives was not only manageable, it was enjoyable. I have so many memories of time with my kids. Now that they are grown, these memories have become priceless.

We did have to come up with a plan to pay for college. We decided once our youngest finished third grade, I would go back to work full-time and my income would go towards college savings. Soon enough those 529’s would be busting at the seams. It was a great plan until a year into my full-time job I realized I really wanted to pursue something that would require more education. And so I went back to school, now costing money rather than making money. Our college savings plan was derailed.

But we were used to sacrifice and simplifying. We were experts at modifying our lifestyle. I earned my master’s degree and finally started to earn some money for education. Our son earned his bachelor’s degree. He started his career two months after graduating, debt-free, and has been financially independent ever since. Our daughter is finishing up her third semester of college. We have had to take on some debt in order to get to where we are. All of my income goes to education expenses, either current or past. The college savings plan had to be modified, but it is working.

I remember that friend saying many years ago that he thought his daughter would appreciate her college education more by having to pay for it. Well, both kids express their gratitude regularly to me for their education. They are well aware of what a gift it is to not be drowning in debt or worse, having to walk away from an education because they can’t afford it.

Obviously what a parent chooses to do is up to that parent, and what a parent is able to do can greatly vary. I have never said to someone, “Why aren’t you paying for your kid’s college?” That choice is theirs alone to make. But I would like people to stop saying to me, “That’s great that you can afford to pay for your kids’ college.” The statement fails to recognize the sacrifices we have made and continue to make in order to do so.

Many times I have wondered what we would be doing if we hadn’t made this decision so early on: the trips we would take, the home remodeling projects we would do, the animals I would adopt… Our decision was a big one. We were uninformed and somewhat impulsive. But I think it was the right decision for us. Sure, the cost is high. But the benefits are way higher.

Thanks, Dad.

3 thoughts on “The Cost of a College Education

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