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Should parents pay for their children’s college education?

Six moms weigh in on how parents should help their children afford a college education. Some saved, others took out loans and a few told their kids to pay for school themselves.

You don’t need me to tell you that college isn’t cheap — but I’m going to do it anyway. According to professor and author John Thelin, state university students can expect to spend around $30,000 per year on tuition and other expenses, and students at private colleges often pay twice that much. In fact, college costs have gotten so expensive that some parents considered giving custody of their children to relatives or friends so their kids would qualify for more financial aid.

If you’re a parent, I’m going to assume that you don’t want to go quite that far. But you still have to ask yourself: how are you and your children going to cover the costs of college? Do parents have a responsibility to provide their children with the kind of education that is practically a necessity in today’s modern workforce? Or should today’s parents be teaching their children savvy ways of covering the costs of college on their own?

I interviewed six different moms with six different plans for helping their children cover the costs of college. Some of these parents saved money, others took out loans, and others told their kids they’d have to cover the cost of their college education themselves.

The parents who save in advance for their kid’s college costs

Becky Beach, an e-commerce owner and business coach at MomBeach, is already saving for her son’s college education — and he’s only three years old. “I started a 529 plan with Fidelity when he was a little baby. Every month, I put in funds, so he now has $5,000 saved. For his birthday and other holidays, I tell relatives to contribute to his fund as well, so he doesn’t end up with too many toys.”

529 plans are extremely popular among parents who want to get a head start on saving for college. These plans allow parents, grandparents, and other relatives and friends to contribute after-tax money into a dedicated investment account. Money can be withdrawn from the account tax-free if the distributions are for qualifying educational expenses.

Beach is motivated to save for her son’s education because her parents didn’t save anything for hers. “My parents did not save anything for my college, so I was in $30,000 debt when I graduated. It was tough trying to pay a $129 monthly payment right out of school because I couldn’t find a job for six months. I don’t want the same to happen to Bryan, so am saving for his college now. Bryan will be extremely grateful when he is older that we have put away so much money for his college.”

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The parents who take out loans for their kid’s college costs

Raylene Taskoski, a speaker and comedian who runs Stand Up Comedy Sex Ed, says that it’s been her greatest joy to be able to pay for her daughter’s college education. “I was a single mom when my daughter was little. I worked full-time and was going to college full-time while we lived with my parents because I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. She would cry when I left for work or school, and I’d say ‘baby, I’m sorry, but I promise you, I guarantee you four years of college and at least two years of housing.’ I said it all through her childhood. Well, I never did graduate college myself, but I did pay for her four years of college and two years of housing with Parent Plus loans.”

Parent Plus loans are federal loans that parents can take out to fund their children’s education. Unlike other types of student loans, Parent Plus loans are not cosigned loans — which means the parent is solely responsible for paying off the debt. These loans come with fixed interest rates and begin accruing interest right away. Although parents can defer making payments until their child graduates, interest will continue to accrue during the deferment period. There are also standard, graduated, and extended repayment plans.

Taskoski’s daughter’s education cost $93,000 in total. Her daughter insisted on covering her own housing costs for her last two years of college, so she graduated with around $15,000 in debt. That means Taskoski’s been paying off the remaining $78,000. “I’ve paid a little over half of the remaining Parent Plus loans in the six years since she’s graduated and I’m paying them down as fast as I can! And I truly do not mind. Like I said, it’s truly my greatest joy to have been able to give her the chance to start adulthood with a full toolbox and only a tiny amount of debt.”

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The parents who cover some of their kid’s college costs

Susan Stitt, marketing director at Front Edge Publishing, has three daughters. Here’s how their family covered the college costs: “We made it clear their whole lives that we would pay room and board, but they had to pay their own tuition. We wanted them to have a dog in the fight. We thought they would study harder and choose their majors more carefully if they had money on the line.” Two of her daughters earned full academic scholarships and the third earned a 90% full-tuition scholarship.

“They were also told that advanced degrees were on their dime as well,” Stitt explains. “One earned full tuition for law school, one full tuition for a masters in divinity. It all worked out well for our girls and us.”

Cathy Posey, blogger at Happy Houseful, also covered a percentage of her children’s college costs. “My husband and I have six children. Four have graduated from college, one chose to leave college and start a family, and one begins dual credits this fall. We openly discussed money from the time they were children and they always understood that we would help them within clearly defined limits.”

This included paying for any dual credits their children earned while still in high school, to motivate them to get a head start on their education. Posey and her husband also provided a modest amount of financial support per semester. “This support was treated as scholarship money with requirements that they maintain a 3.5 GPA, find other scholarships and/or jobs to cover remaining costs, and live morally and responsibly.”

After that, their children covered their college costs by doing everything from working as a residential assistant to caring for a person with special needs. “All of them left college with a high level of confidence that they could succeed professionally as well as the freedom to choose their opportunities. There was no debt driving their decisions.”

The parents who don’t cover any of their kid’s college costs

Ann Abajian, director of corporate communications at Learn4Life and a single mom of three children, is not paying for her daughter’s education — and she doesn’t want her daughter to take out any loans, either. “I already knew that the best gift I could give my daughter (and myself) was to be debt-free after college. I had struggled with debt and wanted to teach my daughter how to use money wisely and an opportunity had presented itself for me to do that. I knew talking to her about staying in town vs. going off to a college like the rest of her friends would be difficult. She had dreamed about going away to college. I also knew that she had to own the decision.”

Her daughter earned a scholarship covering full tuition and board as part of Fresno State’s honors program, and will begin classes this fall. “I kept reminding her that the best gift I could give her and she could give herself was a post-college, debt-free life. After several days, she started to see the light and — on her own — decided that staying in her hometown and getting a free college education was the best choice.”

Lastly, some parents are choosing not to pay for their children’s college costs because they’re still paying off their own. “I was unaware when taking out the loans the impact it would have on my future, still paying 20-plus years later,” Nakia Whittaker-Woody, founder of Kiss Virtual Services, says. “My daughter is aware and supportive of my plan to not pay for her education and she is pursuing other avenues to make her college career a reality.”

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Nicole Dieker is a full-time freelance writer. Her work regularly appears on Bankrate, Lifehacker, The Write Life and numerous other sites. She is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

 This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Haven Life does not endorse the products, services or strategies discussed here. Opinions are those of the individuals interviewed.

Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not provide tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or investment advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and investment advisors before engaging in any transaction. 

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate,, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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