A hot topic this year leading into the election has been that of student loan debt. As the number of people defaulting on their student loans rise, there has been increasing concern about the ability to provide those people with a feasible option to repay their loans and still be able to live decently despite the challenging economic situation we have been facing.
What has been largely ignored in this conversation about student loans and college debt is the amount of debt that parents are taking out to help their children pay for college. The New York Times printed this article earlier this week about the looming debt that parents are facing after assisting their kids in education costs. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“There are record numbers of student borrowers in financial distress, according to federal data. But millions of parents who have taken out loans to pay for their children’s college education make up a less visible generation in debt. For the most part, these parents did well enough through midlife to take on sizable loans, but some have since fallen on tough times because of the recession, health problems, job loss or lives that took a sudden hard turn…
In the first three months of this year, the number of borrowers of student loans age 60 and older was 2.2 million, a figure that has tripled since 2005. That makes them the fastest-growing age group for college debt. All told, those borrowers owed $43 billion, up from $8 billion seven years ago, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Almost 10 percent of the borrowers over 60 were at least 90 days delinquent on their payments during the first quarter of 2012, compared with 6 percent in 2005. And more and more of those with unpaid federal student debt are losing a portion of their Social Security benefits to the government — nearly 119,000 through September, compared with 60,000 for all of 2007 and 23,996 in 2001, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Management Service.”
The struggle is real.
As someone who works in higher education (financial aid, to be specific); I’m left to ponder the question of, “Who should pay for college?” Is it the responsibility of the parent to do so in full? Does the student have some sort of financial responsibility/obligation? If so how much? Should the student pay for their education in full?
All of these are legitimate questions. From a financial aid standpoint, we (at my institution) consider it to be a family contribution, where both students and parents contribute to the cost of the student’s education. That said, I cannot tell you the number of times I see families (parents) incurring insane amounts of loan debt because they don’t want their students to be saddled with the debt later. I also cannot tell you the number of times I hear parents preparing to make ridiculous sacrifices for their child to attend a college when the child has received a significant amount of scholarships to another institution.
Now, I’m not all for telling people how to raise their kids and how to handle their finances. To each his own. However, I believe that parents should not incur so much of the college costs for their child that it puts their financial freedom in jeopardy. And I believe that students should share in some of the college costs- even if it means working jobs on campus/during the summer, or taking some loans out in their own name. When your name is on the line, you’ll take things a little more seriously. And, merging finances and family is an easy to for resentment and all sorts of negative feelings to creep in.
But seriously, if it is MY college education, why shouldn’t I contribute to it? It’s mine. My name is going on the degree. My mother clearly articulated this to me when it came time for me to get a student loan. She reminded me that this was MY education, so the loans should be mine as well. I don’t think that’s a horrible move on her part as a parent. I think it was smart. You best believe I worked my tail off because that money that had to be repaid was gonna come from my wallet. And when it came time for grad school, I still incurred loans, and what I couldn’t take care of myself, my parents covered. But there was no situation where they (parents) incurred loans first, and then I helped out. I don’t feel that my parents did me a huge disservice by having me contribute to my education.
As college costs continue to rise, and we continue to face economic challenges, this question will have to be answered; especially if we continue to desire to provide access to college for increasing numbers of students year after year.