All of us need to learn to take ownership over our lives as young adults, and if we’re lucky we have parents willing to push us to learn to make our own way in the world even if we come from privileged backgrounds.
But there’s a line where refusing to support your child financially as they launch their lives becomes overkill. Paying for college is one of them.
A teen’s parents won’t pay for college despite making $320,000 a year.
To be sure, teaching the value of a dollar to children who grew up in privilege is vitally important. We’ve all known someone who never had to learn these lessons.
But given the astonishing cost of an education — and the level of education required for even the lowliest of entry-level jobs nowadays — refusing to pay for college to teach that lesson seems a bridge too far. Right?
That’s precisely the choice made by the wealthy parents of a teen who called into financial guru Dave Ramsey’s show, however.
The teen’s parents won’t pay for college because they’re at retirement age and just bought a vacation home.
“So I’m 17 and I’m about to head off to college in a couple of months, and I’m out of state for my school,” the teen, named Haley, told Ramsey.”
She’s received some scholarships that have brought the cost of her college down to $30,000 a year. But that’s still a six-figure degree.
“My parents collectively make about 320 a year,” Haley went on to say, “but I knew from a young age that they weren’t going to contribute to anything for college for me.”
She then asked Ramsey for advice on how to get student loans because she does not qualify for financial aid.
Ramsey, usually known for the kind of hardline, up-by-the-bootstraps financial advice that is often controversial, was having none of it in this case.
“Your parents make $320,000 a year and their plan for you is to go into debt to go to college?” he asked, mystified. “I don’t think I need to be talking to you, I think I need to be talking to them. That’s absurd.”
“The thing is, they just bought a second house last year,” Haley said, “and they’re older than most parents, so they’re planning on retiring probably within the next seven to 10 years.”
“Well, that’s sweet,” Ramsey replied in exasperation. “They bought a second house so they can’t afford to send their kid to college. Yeah, that’s some screwed-up value system.”
Ramsey recommended she go to the cheapest school she can find instead, but that may limit her viability in today’s job market.
Haley’s situation illustrates an ongoing problem in the American economy — the value of a college degree is steadily declining. This is for many reasons, chief among them that so many more people have college degrees nowadays.
But it’s also because of the way the job market has changed. Even low-paying entry-level jobs sometimes require Master’s degrees, and kids who don’t go to elite schools, and don’t have the credentials and connections afforded by said elite schools, often can’t get their feet in the door.
This leaves most young people in an untenable and financially debilitating situation. They’re carrying tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that doesn’t get them very far if it gets them anywhere at all.
It’s no wonder, then, that confidence in the value of a college degree has plummeted in the past 10 years, with more and more parents saying they don’t even want their children to go to college in order to avoid these crippling financial realities.
Ramsey had similar feelings about Haley’s situation. “I am NOT going to tell you at 17 years old… to go into debt to go to college,” he said. He recommended instead confronting her parents about the realities of their financial decisions.
Failing that, he recommended she go to a cheaper school she can pay for without debt, because, “Kiddo, the 30-year-old version of you is not going to like the 17-year-old version of you that made these decisions.”
There are all too many 30-, 40-, and even 50-somethings nowadays who know all too well how right Ramsey is about that.
Expecting your children to pay their own way in life is important. But demanding they unnecessarily hurl themselves into the life-ruining meat grinder that our education system and economy have become is downright absurd. And Ramsey’s right — it’s also bad parenting.
John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.