When our son was born, a whole new set of financial decisions suddenly needed attention. Do we need more life insurance? How are we going to pay for the medical bills? One of the biggest questions was, Who should pay for college tuition when he gets older?

We’re well aware of the crazy-high costs of college. My wife graduated with more than $80,000 of student loan debt. While we hope our son won’t be in a similar position when — or if — he graduates from college, we also don’t want him to feel as if he’s entitled to a college education. So rather than paying in full for our son to go to college, we decided to do something different: Pay for half of his education. We hope that this will help him to:

  • become more financially aware,
  • put more thought into his decisions, and
  • take his college education more seriously.

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Factors in Deciding Who Will Pay for College Tuition

We won’t do this if the school is outrageously expensive or if he changes majors five times, but we're willing to split costs for a reasonable college education.

We can’t take credit for this idea, since my parents used the same method for my brother and me when we attended college. I can tell you firsthand that it works. How? Well . . .

1. Paying for Half of College Creates Financial Pain and Awareness

Attending college is not a right. It’s valuable, but expensive. We don’t believe kids should just assume they get to attend the school of their dreams. Only paying half makes students realize that college costs a fortune. It will be the most expensive decision that they have made in their lives up to that point. The financial pain students feel because of paying half their college bills will help them in a few ways.

2. It Will Make Your Kid Think Before Making Major Decisions

College students who pay for half of their tuition will have to face some hard truths.

When you’re paying for half of your college education, you start to realize you need to think a bit more seriously about your decisions. At least I did.

Students will ask themselves difficult but important questions about their schooling. For example, should I attend an out-of-state school or an in-state school to save money? Should I work over the summer or during school to help cover some of my bills? Should I take out student loans to pay for college? If so, which loans should I take out? Should I apply for scholarships to help offset my college costs?

While some students aren’t mature enough to answer these questions, parents can help their kids explore their options. If your child is willing to listen, you can even share some financial wisdom.

Personally, I chose an in-state school to save money on my half of the expenses. I worked during the summer and during a couple of semesters to offset some of my costs and avoid student loan debt.

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I even applied for several scholarships and won thousands of dollars to help pay for my education. If my parents were paying for college tuition (and other expenses) in full, I doubt I wouldn't have tried as hard to keep my costs down. I hope my son also considers these options to help pay for his education.

3. Kids Take Their Education More Seriously This Way

Kids who pay part of their way through college could very well be more invested in their education. If you’re paying part of the tuition each semester, you may try to graduate faster than the student who changes majors and takes five years to graduate. Students may realize that they’re paying to go to school and learn rather than blowing off classes and just doing enough to get a passing grade.

We Won’t Know Whether We Can Help Until College Comes

With all of that said, the question of who should pay for college tuition is not always simply about deciding whether or how you want to help.

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My wife and I won’t know whether we can help financially until our son decides whether he wants to attend college. If he does and we can swing the cost, we’ll try to pay half. However, we won’t be taking out parent loans or sacrificing our retirement to do so.

If we’re doing particularly well financially, we may even reimburse our son for his half after he graduates. We just won’t tell him beforehand so that he'll work for his education like my wife, and I did for ours.