Why Parents Should Consider NOT Paying for Their Child to Go to a Four Year College

Over the years, between youth ministry and collegiate level teaching, and I have had numerous conversations with parents about their child’s present and future goals. In that time I have come to realize that there are many instances where college is not the best option for a student right out of High School.

Somewhere in history I think that individuals have come to believe that they are somehow entitled to higher education beyond High School. For many students, it is a given that they will attend college immediately out of High School and that someone else, usually their parents, will foot the bill for this massive expense. This, in some cases, leaves little motivation for the student to excel and can result in parents with a college drop-out living in their home while they struggle to pay off their child’s student loans. This isn’t fair to the parent, and if the child wasn’t ready for college, it isn’t fair to them either.

I don’t think that we should assume that every student is ready for college immediately out of High School. In fact, I think that parents very much need to access, pray and discern with their child whether or not college is actually a good option at the time or whether some other course of action should be considered.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider NOT paying for your child to go to college. If:

Your child is more interested in partying than studying.
Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with parents who were concerned that their child’s negative High School social behaviors would extend into their college career. Assuming that the student is insistent upon attending college and will accept no other course of action – I have typically advised the parents in these situations to require their child to try an “evaluation semester” to determine if, under threat of being cut off fiscally, their child will refrain from unhealthy social behavior. Another similar, less expensive trial, is to enroll your child in a community college that offers transferable credits to the school that your child wants to go to for the same kind of evaluation. Regardless, throughout the college experience I recommend that parents keep a close eye on their child’s academic progress seeking to understand the needs and nuance of how the student is doing academically.

Your child continually struggles academically
Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for the rigors of academic work. This is totally understandable. Maybe your child isn’t either. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have gifts it just means that maybe their gifts lie elsewhere. If they don’t feel called to college don’t spend upwards of $100,000 for a failed four-year experiment.

Your child has no idea what they want to major in or do for a living
I have watched too many students go to college without ever once discerning what they are called to do as a vocation. Yes, it is the case that, in the first few years, many institutions do offer mostly foundational courses. It is also the case that many colleges do help students to discern what they are called to do in those first couple of years. But, parents should be well aware that such programs do not work for many students as well. If you send your child off to college without a notion of what they might be called to do you need to understand that you are essentially making a $50,000 bet that the system will work for your child. Why risk it? Take the appropriate amount of time to discern with your child what they are called to do OR enroll your child in a local Community College program to earn transferable core credits at an extremely discounted rate.

Your child doesn’t have a strong work ethic.
Many times youth, for a variety of reasons, haven’t yet developed a suitable work ethic by the time that the graduate High School. Often times this is simply a maturity issue. After I graduated High School, the best thing that my parents ever did to emphasize the seriousness of the fiscal obligation that I about to undertake was to make me work a full-time summer job before I went to college. I bused tables and cooked food for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a grease-pit restaurant the summer after my senior year to earn money for college. Every day that summer I was exhausted. That experience paid off though because it was during that summer that I vowed I would work hard when I went to college so that I would never have to work in food services again if at all avoidable. So far my parent’s strategy has worked.

Your child’s vocational interests don’t require a 4-year degree
Many people are called to vocations that do not require a four-year degree. Don’t fall into the trap of paying for more than you need. Most solid, two-year programs will give an option of transferring credits to a four-year program after the programs completion. So, if while in school, the student determines that they actually need a four-year degree they still have the option to do so. If not, then you have avoided loan debt and thus saved years of unnecessary loan payments.

Your child has an addiction or is in need of counseling
One of the biggest mistakes that I see parents make is sending a child to college that suffers from an addiction. A new environment that is relatively unsupervised is not usually the place for students to get over a serious problem. Again, keep tabs on your child’s welfare and get them the help they need before the embark into an advanced academic world.

You simply can’t afford to help fiscally
It is a fact that, while some people would really like to pay for their child’s college education they simply do not have the resources. Don’t worry. If your child merits going to college then there are plenty of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs that they can take part in to make their educational dreams come true. If the student has struggled academically but still has the desire to go to school there is really no reason that they can’t work a couple of years to help save up for their education. There is no rule saying you have to enter college at 18 or 19 years of age.

Your child might be better suited to gain some real life-experience first
I have personally met many students that are ready for college but are mentally or emotionally exhausted and just need a year or two break from school. The challenge with this is allowing opportunity the student continued personal growth without forsaking their “academic edge.” For some students a route of service can fit just such a need. For instance, missions organizations like Adventures in Missions’ World Race allow students to partake in an 11 month, 11 country mission trip around the world. As far as real life experience, that is about as real as it gets.

Pray, Discern, Communicate
The overarching point though is don’t overlook taking the time to care for your child’s actual needs, holding them accountable for their actions, and providing them the proper motivation to be successful with your investment. Take the time to pray, discern and communicate early on in the student’s life so that when it come decision time you will have taken the steps that you need to help your child get to where they are called vocationally.