I wrote last week about the issue of parents prioritizing college savings over that for their own retirements – an problem exacerbated among professional single parents like myself, as 47 percent of single moms surveyed prioritize college savings over retirement, compared to just 26 percent of other modern families who say the same.
It’s hard to fault parents for getting into a tizzy over college decisions. In the decade between the 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 academic years, the average cost of colleges overall rose 70 percent to $18,497, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. Consider the jaw-dropping $61,000-per-year price tag at Sarah Lawrence, or even $23,000 for in-state students at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, my alma mater. To pay for these crazy fees, 7 out of 10 students in the class of 2012 graduated with student loans. On average, students left school with an average loan of $29,400 — a sum increasingly hard for students to manage, as the rate of delinquencies nearly doubling to 11.5 percent over the past decade, according to the Fed.
Those kinds of very real financial pressures face parents of college-bound students every time we scan the media — as do headlines screaming about unemployment rates for young adults and the high and steady rate of millennials who just will not move out of their childhood bedrooms. The logical response is to save up for college and put the screws to our kids to increase the likelihood they get accepted into top schools. The assumption is that better the school, the better the chance of professional success and financial earnings, and the greater the ROI on the high cost of the very best schools.
But that assumption is wrong (I’ll get to that in a moment), and the entire academic paradigm in this country has been turned on its head. As I struggle through 1st grade daily homework with my daughter, and the social pressure to engage my preschool-aged son in a half-dozen extracurricular activities, I am committing to long-view. And that view is neutral on where my kids go to college. In fact, since I foresee a limited college savings fund, I will encourage my kids to seek out state, two-year or technical schools, depending on their interests and aptitude. I am also open to the idea that they forego college all together, instead invest those funds in starting a business or real estate.
In my latest for Forbes, I tell you why.