As my daughter grabs onto her stuffed elephant, pulling it to her mouth, a smile of accomplishment comes across her face. I say to her, “Maybe you’ll grow up to be an elephant doctor and see them up close!”
It’s a simple thought, one that parents of children of any age have every single day: What will my child be when she grows up?
But hidden deep beneath my thoughts of imagining my daughter as a zoologist or a writer or the president, is a nagging fear.
I wonder how my daughter will pay for the education she needs to get her dream job.
The Rising Cost of College Tuition
Together, her father and I have a collective sum of $42,746 in student loan debt. That accounts for a completed master’s degree, several graduate-level courses, and two bachelor’s degrees between us.
Our student loan debt is slightly below average, but we are still overwhelmed by the cost. It prevents us from traveling to Africa to see the elephants. Heck, we often can’t even afford to take our daughter to the zoo or buy her elephant-themed clothing. For families with average or above-average loans, the cost can be difficult to bear. The rising cost of college will only make it worse.
National student debt has been steadily rising with the current debt totaling $1.67 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. By the time my daughter is old enough to attend college, that total will likely have exceeded $2 trillion, at this rate.
Annual tuition and fees have been increasing by over 5 percent each year, exceeding the rate of inflation by over 2 percent, according to a report by College Board. This means that the price will only become increasingly unaffordable with every year that passes.
When I first presented this information to a childless friend, she said, “Better get saving!” But therein lies the issue.
Many of us millennials were pushed into college like cattle.
We were assured that taking on massive amounts of debt would be worth it in the long run. This may no longer be true.
Lack of Parental Support For Affording the Cost of College
I estimate that my husband and I will be paying for our degrees for another decade. This leaves us just eight years to save for our daughter’s education. All this means she’s going to have to face such debts without much help from Mom and Dad.
If my husband and I are facing issues with the affordability of our own loans in addition to savings for our daughter, it is difficult to picture children receiving much help from families who have more loans than we do.
Some families decide not to help either because they can’t or don’t want to pay for their children’s tuition, thinking of it as something they have to work hard and earn to appreciate and not take for granted.
Of course, families have plenty of reasons not to fully cover the cost. Currently, 53 percent of college payments are completed by parents and relatives, according to Sallie Mae. The same study confirms families will spend an average of $30,017 on classes per academic year, potentially putting them in debt for decades to come.
Individual Solutions for the Rising Cost of College
We will, of course, financially help our daughter in every way we can. And we’ll present other options — listed below — to help her finance her education.
With college costs remaining high, here are some tips to help college students avoid crushing student debt.
- Scholarships: Scholarships are available for students with any number of skills or talents or in certain situations. They can be a great resource to help students get money without having to waste potential study time.
- Part-Time Jobs: A part-time job in college can help students gain experience in the workforce, while also helping them manage their student debt. Remember: The quicker students can pay off their debts, the less interest there is to pay!
- Community College: Two short years at a local community college can save students tens of thousands in loans. Once they finish at an affordable local school, they can always attend the college of their dreams, while having to pay for only two years at a high price.
- Need-Based Financial Aid: By filling out the FAFSA, students can be given the opportunity to receive need-based assistance from the government, which can save them thousands.
One potential path that students can choose is to attend a community college. After two years there at a reduced cost, compared to a traditional four-year college, the student could transfer to a more expensive school for their bachelor’s degree with many of their general education requirements out of the way.
This can save prospective students the cost of two full years of higher tuition, which is a huge help.
Another option to help afford the rising cost of college could be side hustles throughout high school and college. If students choose to pursue a side hustle, that money could be put toward paying for their tuition, so they won’t have to worry about taking out as many loans.
Having a job during college also gives students the opportunity to make connections in the workforce, which could increase their chances of finding a job soon after graduation.
Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate classes, dual enrollment in college and high school classes, and the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP ) — through which more than 2,900 colleges and universities grant credit, according to College Board — could also be excellent ways to cut costs.
These classes have the added benefit of improving college applications, which could lead to more acceptances and even scholarships.
Continued Concerns for Student Loans
I’ve worked in higher education before, and I’ve seen the reality.
Even the most ambitious students I have met have failed to graduate debt-free.
So, even if my daughter exhausts every available avenue for financing her education, I can’t see her graduating college without taking on a hefty amount of debt.
I want better for my daughter and for all children like her. She shouldn’t have to graduate owing more money than she can afford, nor move back home to repay her student loans, or choose anything less than her dream school solely due to the cost.
Parental Roles in Preventing Crushing Student Debt
However, it is always important for parents to remember that it is not the sole responsibility of the parents to pay for their children’s college experience, despite the rising cost of college.
“As a general rule, I believe that every student should be at least partially responsible for funding his or her own education,” says personal finance coach Harrison Davis. “Parents should sit down with their children and build a notional plan of what expenses they will be covering and which expenses they expect their son or daughter to pay for.”
“Empowering your children by making them responsible for a portion of their education costs will have a lasting, positive impact on their lives,” adds Davis. “It will help them feel more responsible, give them confidence as they find ways to succeed, and is an important step in their transitioning into adulthood and independence.”
Moreover, having some skin in the game can make a child appreciate their educational experience. “Additionally, students who pay for even a portion of their college expenses tend to value their education more and subsequently get more out of their time in college,” Davis continues.
Not to mention, ensuring you have enough money to retire out of poverty is essential. Your children have the rest of their lives to earn a living. Your time to earn money is finite.
There is an important balance between helping your children avoid crushing debt and ensuring they will develop a sense of responsibility in relation to their education.
The responsibility of paying for at least a portion of their education can provide tangible benefits for students.
“Doing this incentivizes students to work while in school, which has a host of additional benefits such as providing the student with real-world experience and improving their résumé,” Davis adds. “This will, in turn, make it easier for the student to get a good job after graduating and start out their career on a solid track.”
“In fact, students who worked while in college tend to earn more throughout their careers than their peers who didn’t work while in school,” Davis adds.
Finally, students who work during college can provide additional information for their résumé and better letters of reference for future jobs.
The Bottom Line
I wish I could end this post with some more light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as a society, the rising cost of college is one of the most glaring problems facing us and our children.
But utilizing the individual solutions mentioned above, we can help our own children. Yes, we need to find ways to fix this problem at the source, but acknowledging these steps is a start.
Additional reporting by Lauren Shayo.