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should parents pay for college?

A few months ago I wrote about whether I should pay for my childrens’ college.

In that post, I lamented how expensive it would be just to send them to private high school, leaving me nothing to save for their college. For me to pay for high school and college, I’d essentially have to forego saving for retirement, unless I significantly increase my income. I rather use LegalZoom to find the right way to draw up my will and the kids could pay off their loans after I pass on.

There is always an option to pay for some college classes online, but that's useless unless kids pursue a full degree program. Many different options, still at a price.

So I’d like to examine some arguments on both sides of the issue: The pros and cons of paying for a child’s college.

If you are a high schooler looking for some points to argue to your parents, read on. If you are a parent, you’d probably better read too.


  • It will allow them to focus on learning without the nagging worry of student loan debt
  • Would prevent them from having to work a lot of hours at a job, focusing them on studying
  • Gives them a head start on retirement
  • Allows them to start their life debt-free (so long as you stayed away from credit card debt)
  • Gives the opportunity to take a lower-paying job or internship upon graduation
  • Would make the decision to go to graduate school easier
  • If your grandparents paid for your parents’ college, your parents’ should probably pay for yours
  • If your parents are wealthy and don’t mind, they should pay


  • If parents had to pay their own way, they may want their kids to do the same
  • College is getting prohibitively expensive, and it could prevent parents from saving for retirement
  • If parents can’t save for retirement, the burden will be on the kids to take care of them
  • Not doing so forces every generation to be dependent on themselves
  • Kids will take college and work more seriously if they have to pay for it
  • If parents don’t think their kid is ready



As you can see, it would appear that there are more reasons parents’ should pay for college, so it’s decided. Not so fast!

Are the reasons NOT to pay better than the reasons to pay? That depends on your own personal situation. That’s why you won’t often hear me trumpeting a formula or money principle that is one-size-fits-all.

If your parents are broke, they can’t afford to pay for your college. While that is a shame, and you may feel let down, your parents made a series of choices with their lives and this is the reality you have to deal with. Maybe they chose boats and motorcycles and gadgets over saving for your school.

While we could spend time moaning and groaning and telling everyone who will listen how unfair this is, wouldn’t you rather use it as an opportunity to show that you aren’t going to make the same mistakes as your parents?

I don’t want to suggest, either, that just because your parents are rich that they should pay for your college. I listed it above as a possible reason to justify it. This does not mean that it must happen. If a rich parent wants their children to make it on their own without any help, it is their money and their life – and their decision.

Personal finance is all about personal responsibility. For parents who are happy to pay for their kids’ schooling, it can feel like a reward for years of hard work and financial diligence. The important thing is that you are able to do what you want, and if you can’t, to at least find a way to deal with reality and move forward.

There are plenty of good reasons for both paying and not paying for your children’s college. Whatever you decide, know that there is no right answer or wrong answer, just a series of questions and decisions in your past that you have already answered, and already made.


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