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Who Should Pay for College? Parenting Approaches Differ

Some say it's a parent's responsibility to cover college costs, while others say the child should at least help.

Adam Zoll, 12/28/2012

Few financial decisions a parent makes are as significant--or as expensive--as the decision about how to pay for a child's college education. And with tuition costs rising faster than the rate of inflation, and more and more students graduating with college loan debt, it's a decision that can add financial and emotional strain within a family.

We recently asked Morningstar.com users on our Personal Finance discussion board how much of their child's college costs they paid or plan to pay and why. The question seemed to strike a chord with many of our users, dozens of whom shared stories about how they funded their children's educations while trying to teach life lessons along the way.

For some the question came down to a matter of financial wherewithal. Their families simply couldn't or can't afford to pay all college costs, especially for multiple children. In other cases, parents felt an obligation to pay all of their children's college costs, either as part of their parental responsibilities or because their parents had done the same for them. Below are some of the responses. To read all the comments, click here.

'We Paid All Undergraduate Costs'
Many users described covering all of their children's college expenses as a parental duty, and several mentioned wanting their kids to begin their working lives without having to worry about paying loans.

Comments by zorkl55 were typical: "We paid all undergraduate costs for our kids. I know so many people where I work who are saddled with huge debt when they embark on their careers. My wife and I did not want our kids to have that kind of burden after college."

"We paid 100% for four years, and anything after that they were on the hook for," wrote healey36. "We figured they'd have enough challenges coming out and didn't need to be buried in debt. My wife and I have lived frugally (not cheaply) to bankroll this and can almost see the light through the trees now. Have a plan, keep your head down, and you can do this."

But paying 100% of college costs can be a real challenge for many families these days, especially those putting multiple children through school.

Tedstryker wrote, "We have two kids in their junior year living at home. We have dropped our 401(k) contributions to 10% and made some other sacrifices in order to get them through without loans. It will be close. We wanted to do our best, considering the economic outlook, to bless them with a start without loan payments. They work part-time to help with their daily living expenses. I started college in 1975 with a full load for $145 per semester. Times have definitely changed."

Adam Zoll is an assistant site editor with Morningstar.com


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