Parental Contributions and Class Privilege

26 Mar

There’s a blog (here) from a trans woman who went through UMich Law. It’s no longer updated, but still useful, particularly to me since hers is a path I plan on following. This post talks about student entitlement; to what degree are parents obligated to cover children’s college costs?

It’s one of those issues that works me up.

To be blunt, parents aren’t obligated to pay anything. Let’s keep it real, there’s no mandate in America that decrees all parents must cover children’s college costs. Then again, it’s not really that simple. Whether it’s realistic or not, financial aid documents like the FASFA and CSS Profile require parental information. And, a disturbing amount of it, at that. Don’t supply it? You’re ineligible for all aid, including non-private loans. In the truest sense, it’s not optional at all, not so long as the student lacks a trust fund. So, ya beg and plead and pray your parents fill out the forms. This means the FASFA at all schools, and the CSS Profile if you’re attending one of a growing number of schools (currently including all the Ivies and many other top schools). So, magic elves crunch the numbers, and the school provides a financial aid package to cover costs minus a contribution expected from the parents and student. Expected contribution is based on income and assets. So, to break it down, any college you attend expects parents to provide some compensation, and the more money they have, the more they’re expected to give. Can’t swing it? Enjoy your private loans, average APR in this economy? Still in excess of 10 points. Which is to say, enjoy your bankruptcy.

It’s outside the scope of this, but yeah, it’s important to go to college; the case could be made now that it’s essential to go to the highest rankest (read– most expensive) school you can, too. The job market is more competitive than over, so too should your credentials be. And, since there’s no weaseling out of the expected parental contribution (e.g. there’s no waiver for “parents refuse to pay”), the student is screwed if the parents are unwilling to fill out the forms or pay the expected contribution. We’re not talking about the kind of money that can be compensated for by working full time and talking out loans with egregious interest. Tuition and expenses at my alma matter exceed 50,000 dollars a year; it’s not even considered a particularly expensive school, either. The most a student with no experience is going to make, working full-time, is probably 20,000 dollars a year. Unfortunately, if your parents make enough money, 25,000+ thousand a year is the situation you’re settled with. Enjoy having six figures of double digit interest debt upon graduation. Hey, plenty of those loans don’t have a grace period for you to get a job, hope you get employed soon! Oh, and if you do file for bankruptcy? It’s practically impossible to erase that debt; you’re carrying it with you back out of bankruptcy. Your options if you can’t pay are (1) kill yourself, or even worse, (2) flee to a banana republic that doesn’t extradite, missing all your favorite American television shows. Noooo, my American Idol!

So, legally, parents aren’t required to pay anything with regard to college costs. Ethically, parents should pay the expected contribution. That’s why it’s expected. Want to pay more than that? Go ahead, cover school tuition and all assorted living expenses. I don’t see why that’s required, though. Students need to be willing to take out some loans, preferably public subsidized loans. For the record, I have about 15,000 dollars of that tasty, tasty debt. I’m lucky, oddly, that my parents didn’t have more money. And, yes, I worked through college; full-time for a year, part-time for the rest.

This burns me, personally, because my father has literally never paid a dime for my education. My mom covered his share, and provided the expected parental contribution for both parents. It’s honestly hard for me to accept her money, but once upon a time I covered some of her expenses. My other options? Yeah, none, really. How can I repay her? I dunno, but I wish I could in some way. Meanwhile, it leaves me embittered toward my father. C’mon, at least if you’re going to be an abusive a-hole, it’s expected that you “make up for it” paying for college. Geeze, those are the after school special rules, ya know.

The other side of this is obviously parents who’ve given way too much to their children. That’s pretty apparent at my alma matter. One of my friends was given a Bently for graduating. That’s an outlier, but it’s not uncommon to see luxury SUVs outnumbering hoopties in the parking lots. I’d be lying to say it doesn’t make me angry.

The truth here, as in most things, is somewhere in the middle. Or, if you want me to make it sound fancy, it’s Aristotle’s golden mean. Give some money to your kids, it’s the nice thing to do. Don’t give them so much they’re spoiled jerks. How wide is the middle-ground? Pretty damn wide. For all the kvetching, my mom navigated that well. Hopefully, if I’m a mom (as I hope to be, someday), I’ll do as well as she.

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


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