Parental Influence on College Education

The following article is by Kristi, our staff writer. She is a great freelance writer, blogger, wife, and stay at home mom of two.

Parental Influence on College EducationYou know the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? That’s what parenting feels like 99.9% of the time.

No matter how much time, effort, and money you put into your child’s future, you can only point them in the right direction and hope that they’ll make the right choices. Parents obviously want the best for their kids, but at some point, you have to take a step back and let your kids make mistakes.

Or do you? If a parent is funding their child’s future by incurring student loan debt, do you believe that that parent has a right to guide their child’s career path?

To a certain extent, I believe they do. I, personally, wouldn’t want my kids to use hard-earned college tuition money to study Russian literature or any other major with no real career field. On the other hand, I also want my kids to be happy.

If you’re paying for their college, you have a right to want your child to be happy and have ambition, with the hope of a well-paying career down the line.

Funding their education

In 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that outstanding student debt was approaching $1.2 trillion. That debt has now surpassed the 1 trillion mark, and it keeps growing, with the average student debt now being more than $29,000 per student.

It’s estimated that in 18 years, the average, private, four-year College could very well cost more than $130,000 per year. Attending a state school won’t be much better, coming in at over $41,000 per year. Even using a 529 to save for college in order to fully pay for college for our two children, we would have to save roughly $4,000 per month to put our kids through four years of college. $4,000 is more than we can afford at this time.

Knowing that we won’t have enough saved for college puts us in a pretty uncomfortable situation. I know that unless our financial situation changes drastically, we will either have to take on substantial student loan debt or put off our retirement indefinitely. Whatever struggles we face to put our kids through school will be worth it, though.

Does college focus really matter?

Especially since we will struggle to put our kids through school, I am fairly certain that I will have a great deal to say when the time comes for our kids to pick their focus in school. When we will have sacrificed so much to be able to get them to college, we won’t want them to blow the opportunity getting a bogus degree with no real jobs in their field of study.

Does their field of study in college really matter, though? Like most things in life, it depends. A decade or two ago, it didn’t really matter as much what your focus of study was while you were in college, just as long as you had earned a college degree.

Kids need to know earlier than ever what their focus should be, especially since college degrees are more common than ever before. If they want to have any chance at all of excelling in particular fields and landing a job in a competitive job market, they seriously need to assess their choice of college focus. If your child wants to work in a field with one of the highest paying degrees, they will need to have their college focus be part of the S.T.E.M field (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

You certainly can’t become a doctor of medicine if you didn’t take any math or science classes for your undergraduate degree. Having a S.T.E.M. degree will give kids an edge in our competitive job market, hopefully giving them the best opportunities to find well-paying jobs.

Is the cost and stress of funding college really worth it?

Even though we’re still facing a fairly competitive job market, one thing can still be said in favor of a college education. According to a 2014 study done by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C., workers who hold four-year degrees make an average of 98 percent more per hour than their degree-less counterparts.

So it seems that even with the enormous student-loan debt problem that our country is facing, it’s still economical in the long run to take on that debt to provide a better future for yourself or your kids.

Lead them to water

Even if my children decide not to use their college degree for a career field with the same field of study, I’ll know that the cost of college will have been worth it. Even if they end up being an artist, a musician, a chef, or a backup singer on Broadway, I will never regret saving whatever I can to give my kids the best chance in life that I can give them, by paying for their college education.

I’ll steer them in the direction of S.T.E.M. careers and hopefully persuade them to pick an applicable focus of study, but in the end, we can’t force them to do anything. We have to let them make their own decisions.

Even if my kids walk away from an engineering career, as long as their educated and happy, I’ll do my best to be happy for them and their decisions.

Do you have kids? Will you try to persuade your kids to take a S.T.E.M. focus in college, or will you let them study whatever they want to study? Do you believe college will be worth the cost in 18 years?

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36 thoughts on “Parental Influence on College Education”

  1. I have a bachelor degree in Chemistry, worked for 2 years in my field, quit, moved to the beach with my boyfriend (future husband) and am now a commercial real estate appraiser. We now have two kids, one that is super strong willed (girl, 9) and one that is more laid back (boy, 6). We save $100 a month for each kid in 529 plans and the grandparents contribute about $300 a year. We will not be able to afford college for both kids at 4 years each, so we expect them to contribute and work during college as well.

    That being said, even if we were fully funding their degrees, I do not feel I could decide what they should major in or their career choice. That is their call…..whether I agree with it or not. My job as a parent (IMO), is to guide them through the process and hopefully educate them regarding costs/value, etc. Funny enough, my kids go to a semi-private school (K-8 grade) that focuses on the arts. Each day they have something different: drama, art, instrumental music, vocal music and dance. They are both thriving there, but I am not sure if they are “artsy”. lol

  2. We tried all our influential skills to lead our three kids to stem careers. As a chemical engineer who loved my job I thought a vocational degree like engineering was the best way to have my kids grow into successful and happy adults. My son became a chemical engineer and later a medical doctor (in progress), my daughter became a biological engineer followed by a master’s degree in civil engineering but our third child was a straight A magna cum laude business major who now has a master’s in Adult Education. She uses it to mentor Division 1 college athletes at major universities. The engineers had easier times finding jobs and make more money but I can’t say there is greater or less happiness associated with their careers. What did matter was that my wife taught them great study skills and they all made mostly A’s by working hard and by hanging out with other serious and bright students. They all graduated without a penny of student loan debt and academic scholarships basically paid their entire way through their initial degrees. They paid for their secondary degrees themselves by working for their universities. Great kids with a great mom, and an average dad.

  3. Joe and Kristi- Thanx for the enlightening post and conversations. So much helpful stuff, I forward it to others to share. A lot of wisdom here today.

  4. I had my children when I was very young. I think we all tap on our prior knowledge/experiences and that can influence us all on how we view life in regards to what is the appropriate thing to do. My parents did not prepare the bed for me and I had to work very hard to earn a college degree. Believe me the less money parents have the more opportunities the students have. In fact if my mom showed that she had any money at all it would have hurt me more! I always had the opportunity to apply for a grant and that is an opportunity that still exists. Once I earned my degree and got a good paying salary, the benefit to apply was gone. I attended college first and then we had to pay out of pocket for my husband’s college. I think you are all right when some of you mentioned “private” college, that is a big difference. It is more expensive but I attended California State University and always made more compared to the employees that attended private universities. Why? Because I always felt I had to work harder and took all classes necessaries to place myself in the highest salary bracket early in my career. My husband and I paid for our sons college education and we didn’t feel that it was difficult or that we had to go into any kind of serious debt to pay for their college. It was never a burden or a sacrifice. We did it with pleasure and without any regrets. Our oldest son was always ahead of the game, while he was in high school he took many college courses at the community college. He was just that type of “smarty pants” and by the time he entered college he was done with very difficult courses such as Political science, Math and English. Those courses were free and he advanced and saved us some money. He was 22 when he graduated from college. He graduated super fast double major, a teaching credential after that and did not want to use any of his degrees. Is he smart? Super smart! He can dismantle any type of motorcycle just holding a manual. He has no interest on making money or becoming rich. He loves nature and goes and spends time up in the mountains. He has a tremendous heart and is well liked by all! His degrees? Hanging on the wall. My youngest. He was popular in school. Just interested in collecting shoes. He ditched once and got caught by police. I had to go to court and pay the fine. He promised never to do it again. He almost didn’t graduate on stage because he was missing a grade/class, when I found out which one was the class I almost ate him alive! Spanish! He said it wasn’t his fault yada, yada. I still did not give up on him and enrolled with him in a Spanish class in the community college that was going to give him a year credit for high school. I attended the Spanish class with him! I thought I was going to tutor him and he got better grades then me! Spanish is my primary language… I know children do not come with a manual. He graduated on stage and got a special award for a sort of a “Shoe Business Project”. We paid for his college, of course he attended community college forever! I lost count of how many times I paid for his political science class and many others. I sat down with him and explained him that college was very serious matter and to let me know if he really wanted to attend. He had strange friends and I was always worried about him… The good thing is that he always had two jobs and even three. He worked hard for his shoes! He is now 28, he moved out with his girlfriend and is almost finished with his college degree in Business Administration. I still help him with books. I sat with him again and again, showed what classes he needed to re take and ask how to request the removal of unwanted grades that were hurting his GPA. I was pretty much his counselor. He did listened, he always made more money then my oldest and he wants to make lots of money, he likes money and likes to spend it in expensive items as well! He was raised with “Payless Light bright Shoes”. Right now he qualifies for a grant to pay for his last semesters. When his grades were going down he knew he could come to his parents and ask for help because he either did not enroll full time and didn’t qualify for the grant or had a low grade. The secret is that we have always been available and deep inside he knows that. He is graduating this Summer! I hope that this scenarios help you understand that we must never give up on our children. I have two adorable sons who I raised, I am very proud of them but they are both totally different individuals, they are both happy! Be alert, know their friends and trust your instinct and please do not give up! After all they are and always be your babies…

  5. It seems almost accepted that parents are supposed to help. When I graduated from high-school I handed over my house key and that was that. I was on my own. I never received college assistance, and I turned out OK. All that debt made me *serious* about college, and determined to graduate.

    I’d like to instill that serious attitude in my own kids; I don’t want to fund laziness. Kids do a lot of goofing-off in college, and don’t focus on their studies. Many don’t even graduate.

    I think my current plan is to adopt a “pay for performance” scheme. I’ll let them go to college thinking I’m not going to pay a dime. Once they actually graduate, then I’ll get out my checkbook.

  6. I’m going to encourage my children to think about what kind of education they should pursue in order to provide a comfortable life for themselves. That probably means something in the STEM field, business, or medicine. The first four years are (mostly) on me and after that they should be able to support themselves.

    If they really want to pursue philosophy or medieval Spanish literature, that’s a tough one. Do I pay tens of thousands of dollars for that? Is there a market where those skills are highly valued? So far in life I haven’t spent a five or six figure sum on pure fancy, so I’m not sure I could start when my kids turn 18 and go off to college. I suppose I might offer them the cash and suggest they bum around Europe for a year instead.

    It would probably be cheaper, more fun, and no more of an impediment to being a successful adult than going through the motions in University for a degree that would have a hard time paying off significantly more than 4 years of life experience and self learning. I have 7 more years before I might have to test this theory; we’ll see if I can remain an idealist and stick to my guns at that point. 🙂

    • Kids have a funny way of making you forget about sticking to your guns. There’s no reason they can’t do both, though! Study abroad is a great opportunity to study while seeing the world.

  7. Our kid is almost 5. We’ll see what he is good at. If he is good at S.T.E.M., then I would encourage him to study those fields. We are saving for his college education in a 529 account, but it probably won’t be enough to pay for the whole thing. He can get a loan and work if he needs to.
    If he insist on Russian Lit., then I’d suggest that he live at home and go to a local college. That will be much more affordable than paying for room & board.
    If he choose S.T.E.M., then I’d make sure he knows what kind of perils lie ahead for him so he can plan for an early exit.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Everything says that the cost of education is going to continue to go up to the point where no one can afford it anymore without having to decide if the cost is worth the benefits. Of course, a lot may change as education starts becoming more prominent through the web… that could change costs dramtically.

    In the meantime, I decided that for my daughter (who’s 5 right now), we’re only putting some money away for her in a 529, but not a ton. The bulk of our income is going toward retirement investments that pay off in the long haul (i.e. real estate rentals and dividend stocks). In the long run, as the saying goes, “they can get a loan for their education, but you can’t get one for your retirement.”

    Although I want my daughter to get a good education, I’m hoping to continue to teach her financially so that she can then utilize passive income to make her living instead of needing to follow the traditional path. I would still like her to attend college (at least at this point in time), but if for some reason the math doesn’t add up and it doesn’t really make sense to do it, she’ll have a secondary option.

    — Jim

  9. “If you’re paying for their college, you have a right to want your child to be happy and have ambition, with the hope of a well-paying career down the line.”

    I think parents want their children to be happy and satisfied with their lives regardless of whether they pay for college or not. Sure a well paying career that they enjoy would be icing on the cake.

    “A well-paying career” is relative in that most when asked would define this statement with different numbers because how much annual income really defines a well-paying career?

    Also, is there a guarantee that with a well-paying career it will bring happiness? I think not.
    I read recently that 80% of employees are unhappy with their present jobs.

    I feel it best to provide countless opportunities to children throughout childhood spanning all areas so they are aware of the many options. Travel, tours, classes, volunteering, jobs, internships, field trips, job shadowing, books, and tv programs can provide insight into the endless career options available.

    I focused on exposing my child to the world around her and then discussing the pros, cons, and income potential of those career choices.

    I don’t support the idea of selecting a field of study or a career choice for my child simply because I decided to pay for their education.

    If my parents would have chosen my life plan for me, In exchange for them paying, I would have gladly taken the school loans any day. ( I paid for all of my college expenses myself no help from my parents). I chose and I paid.

    It is my child’s life and I want her to choose for herself. I will provide insight and wisdom to advise her but not choose for her.

    I know she will find her way in this world because she is properly equipped but this does not equate to her ultimately choosing a well-paying career. I am okay with that….

    Many Many women I know are well educated and choose to be stay at home parents for years. Many never enter the workforce even after their children are grown. Most attended private universities and their parents paid the bill. Because they don’t plan to have a career outside the home, then they will never have that well paying career. Should their parents be unhappy about their dollars spent and their child’s choices? I think no.

    There is so much more to life and happiness than dollars and cents. Sure the money helps but it does have its costs as well.

    I have one child. She is a junior in a 4 year state university. I made saving for her education a priority throughout her childhood mostly in a 529 plan. I did not borrow from my mortgage or refinance (My mortgage is paid off in full). I did not neglect my retirement accounts. I chose my standard of living carefully so I could afford to save for retirement, save for college, build a healthy emergency fund, and pay off my mortgage by 40. I am almost 42.

    I have and will continue to pay for 100% of her college expenses for her undergrad and graduate degrees.
    Additionally, she has received $xx,xxx in merit based scholarships due to her grades. These monies have been placed in her savings account. When she completes school, she will have no debts and a nest egg to start life with that will provide for a down payment on a home or seed money to start a business or money to spend a few years traveling around the globe.

    Regardless of what career she chooses or doesn’t choose, if she is happy, satisfied, and healthy, I will be happy with my investment.

    Ps- She chose Accounting.

    • Your daughter is very blessed to have so much love and support to help her get started in life. I hope I’m able to provide for my kids the way you have provided for your daughter. I would never force my kids to choose a field of study, but I will gently persuade them to give themselves the most options possible by choosing an in-demand field of study. I just want them to think very carefully about the real-life implications of their choices, because I know how it feels to not have enough money to put food on the table.

  10. I think the purpose of college is to develop thoughtful citizens with critical thinking skills, not a preparation for a career. Plus, some people are just not strong in S.T.E.M. areas! Having said this, I do worry about the burden of student loans on young people, especially those in the middle class.

    I’m also interested in your thoughts about people who become stay-at-home parents. I know people, mostly women, who ended up staying home with the kids and were still paying off loans for degrees they’re not technically using.

    • I decided to stay at home with my kids even though I had a degree with unpaid loans. I work from home now, and my career definitely wouldn’t be possible without my education. I do wish there were more work from home opportunities, because this is an area that a lot of women struggle to balance.

  11. I definitely won’t take on debt for my two boys (3.5 and 2 right now). I have been putting $2,000 per year into a Coverdell ESA for each of them. They should have $60k or so in there by the time they are ready for school. I plan to give them a few thousand each during school, but will encourage them to go after scholarships. I will educate them about student loans and debt, but not stop them from taking out loans if they so choose.

    I think the experience is worthwhile and like someone else commented, they need to have some skin in the game. A part-time job, gpa based scholarship, or working hard in the summer would all be ways to make me feel like they are contributing.

    • Hi Vawt. What made you choose the Coverdell ESA over a 529? What little I know about ESAs suggests that a 529 is preferable, so I’m curious. Thanks!

      • Mike H.- My tax accountant said 529’s can be expensive, to stick w/the Coverdell ESA. Just remember to move the kid’s money out of the stock market 5 years prior to starting college-too risky.

  12. Learning is always worth it. Paying for an education depends on the individual, but I think college will still be very important in 10, 20, 30+ years. However, you never mention about your kids working through school. Students who work during school, on average, perform better than those who have a free ride from their parents.

    • Jobs during college are an invaluable way for kids to learn how to support themselves while also building their resume. I will definitely expect my kids to get a job while they’re in school.

  13. I don’t have kids but I can comment on the difference between kids who had parents fund their education and kids who only had a bit of help or none at all. The latter try harder and take their education more seriously. Kids need to have some skin in the game because it is after all their life.

    • I agree with you for the most part, but I have known dozens of dedicated, hard-working students who excelled in school because they knew how much of a sacrifice it was for their parents to send them there. I had help getting through school, but I also always had a job through college to help pay my own way.

  14. I have a beautiful daughter, age 6. I would love for her to choose a STEM focus down the road, but she is showing tremendous interest in more artistic endeavours. I admit that, even though she is only six, and there is still lots of time to figure out where her interests lie, I am scared for her future. I will support her (financially, to the best of my ability, and emotionally) no matter what she chooses to study, but I will be guiding her and helping her to think very carefully about her career choice. Studying fashion design sounds like fun, but if she chose that path, or one similar, I would certainly be asking what her backup plan is.

    • My daughter is 5 and showing equal interest in both the arts and science. I would be thrilled if she decided to pursue biology (she loves looking through a microscope and all things nature) and finding time to make arts a minor pursuit in college. I think there can definitely be a balance.

    • Catwoman-I would not worry about your daughter’s artistic endeavors at all. My kid once had a 3rd grade teacher heavy into teaching the arts. Well, turns out they learned alot! Eye/hand coordination, focus, deeper thinking, creativity, etc. Maybe she’ll go into engineering! If she learns to relax & enjoy doing arts and crafts, it’ll be a lifelong therapeutic hobby for her. Encourage the arts!

  15. Push them hard, they will bounce back harder. It doesn’t matter what your kids are going to study. You must be there to explain them what current decision will bring them in future. it is not all about money and enjoying in benefits of having money. Some occupations today are more worth than others, in ten to 20 years anything can be changed.

  16. Kristi, great article and very thought provoking!

    I have two little ones now and as a stay-at-home Dad, I do wonder occasionally if I’m doing the best things for their development along the way.

    I definitely feel it’s good to help steer our children into a path of confidence and self exploration early on. If they are able to flex this muscle early on, I believe they’ll be well equipped when entering college and finding what’s right for them.

    If college costs are $130K by the time my kids are young adults, I’d be okay supplementing a decent chunk of it – but, not all of it. I think some of the best learning in college happens outside of the classroom (jobs, internships, etc.). As long as they come out of their college years knowing they can “figure it out”, I don’t really care what they study.

  17. I think most financial professionals today advise parents not to go into debt for their kid’s college. That saving for one’s own retirement should be top priority. I can’t imagine being of a certain age (senior), still paying off a mortgage plus the kid’s college on top of it.
    There’s far too much pressure put on most young students today to decide upon a career path when they are still kids. Then there’s which college to choose, and hopes for a scholarship or two pressures added to that scenario. All I know is this, for college/career paths and choices, ultimately the kid must “own” that decision, no one else. Once they explore these choices, their instincts guide them down the right path.
    A school principle once told me, the key is motivation. If your kid develops, drive, motivation, ambition, perseverance-they are on the right track. They are doing the things they love to do. And you can count your lucky stars. Parents as role models play a huge part.

    • We will definitely assist our kids with their college expenses to the best of our ability, but we most likely won’t be able to pay for all of it. Scholarships and the military will definitely have to be options, but I mostly just want the best for my kids, whichever career path they choose. But, I agree, their own motivation, plus our guidance, are invaluable for heading them in the right direction.

  18. No, I don’t have any kids and perhaps I shouldn’t even be posting here. But as Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything but temptation.” Having both an Engineering degree and an MBA (which I don’t like to advertise), I find great inspiration and truth in these words of wisdom about education:

    “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”
    — Thomas H. Huxley

    “The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but a transference of bones from one graveyard to another.”
    — J. Frank Dobie

    “I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.”
    — Michel de Montaigne

    “I know of no university that teaches anything whatsoever about initiative, independence, the feeling of accomplishment, or adversity being a blessing in disguise and a character builder.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    “How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid. It must be education that does it.”
    — Alexandre Dumas

    “Reading and writing, arithmetic and grammar do not constitute education, any more than a knife, fork and spoon constitute a dinner.”
    — John Lubbock

    “Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.”
    — Henry Adams

    “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”
    — Jim Rohn

    I particularly like Jim Rohn’s advice. I attribute my self-education much more so than my formal education for the success and prosperity that I have achieved as a self-published author. If I would have known the value of self-education over formal education a lot earlier in my life, I would have been a multi-millionaire by the time I was 50. But I am not complaining given that I did find out the importance of self-education in due time and I am now in a better financial position than over 95 percent of people my age.


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