Why parents shouldn’t pay for their children’s post-secondary education

12Jun09

I’ve talked to a couple parents lately who are either feeling intense anxiety about ensuring they can pay for their children’s post-secondary education, or intense guilt about the fact that that’s not going to be possible for them. I really feel badly for these people, and wish they would stop making themselves crazy, for two reasons:

1) You’re a great parent whether or not you pay for your child’s education.

2) You might be an even better parent if you don’t. Because a) you’ve already been able to give your child many advantages – paying for their post-secondary just creates even greater inequality; b) not having your post-secondary education paid for can teach you a lot of really valuable life skills.

I think the ideal situation for parents and children is to allow your child to keep living at home during post-secondary or, if that doesn’t work for them, billet someone in their room and give them the money (or most of it). This is a very fair and generous arrangement.

But – then won’t your child wind up in tons of debt after graduation? How will he or she pay for tuition and living expenses? Well, by working part-time and during summers. The secret no-one wants to tell you is that it is totally possible to do some extracurriculars, do well in school and work part-time (10 to 15 hours per week) without killing yourself, if you know how to manage your time.

Learning how to not let schoolwork take over your life is really important, both for figuring out time management skills and for your sanity while you’re in school. It’s definitely not easy at all, but it’s do-able and worth doing.

Parents who give their kids a basic living allowance or a place to live and encourage them to work are (I swear) doing their kids a favour. And probably making themselves a lot more sane – something kids should support. But aside from the parental sanity and character-building arguments, I actually think the best reason to do this is the fairness argument – if you care about a more economically equal world, you have to be willing to forego giving your child some of the monetary advantages you might be able to give them.

This completely goes out the window for people who have any kind of serious emotional challenges or learning disabilities. Or Americans – who should consider sending their children to school in Canada anyways.

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