Friday, March 5, 2010

A Personal Investment in Education Brings Students Freedom and a Sense of Accomplishment

Many days, it’s a stretch to think about any of my children going to college someday. After all, I spend a lot of my time saying things like, “We paint on the paper, not on our face.” “Don’t put that in your nose.” And “Please get down from there.” Still, I know that time in the parenting trenches is fleeting and that college really isn’t that far away.

I’m reminded of this every once in a while when someone sees us out with our children and exclaims, “Wow. You’re going to have four kids in college all at once.” Indeed, if we were to pay for their education, we’d have to be saving a hefty sum already.

College tuition rates have been outpacing the rate of inflation, and experts agree that this trend will likely continue. Thirteen years from now (when our oldest is 18), a four-year college degree will cost an estimated $100,000, and this is a conservative number.

College will probably get more expensive for the next three children down the line, with costs coming in at about a half-million dollars for all of our kids. This is in part why we don’t intend to pay for their college tuition, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the most significant reason.

My parents gave me plenty of warning that I would be paying for my own education, giving me a lot of time to consider whether going to college was important to me. Once I decided that it was important, I had to know what I was willing to pay for it. I didn’t realize until later that paying for college would end up being a significant part of my education.

With encouragement from my parents, I did a lot of babysitting and cleaning during the summers, tucking away half of everything I made. Years later, I stood in the registration line in the college gym, my hand trembling as I wrote a check that amounted to all my summers of hard work. And I do mean all. I spent everything I had saved to pay for one semester of classes.

Seeing my savings vanish, I quickly found a job at a nearby restaurant. I donned an au jus-splashed apron several days a week and squeezed in a work-study job too. I was on a first-name basis with the staff in the business office at my college, which tells you just how many times I trekked up there to make payments.

Though it wasn’t always easy, the hard work of paying for college forced me to think carefully about how I approached my academic work. Whatever classes I took, I knew I would have to pay for them and for my books. If I skipped a class, it was like debiting money from my own account. Does this mean I was the perfect student? Not exactly. But the experience of paying my own way gave me a sense of freedom and accomplishment that I’ll never forget.

We haven’t started a college savings plan, but we are already preparing our children to think about the value of getting an education. More than anything, we want to give them the power to decide the shape and scope of their education. And if this means going to college, we will be happy to help them as we are able.

CCCS/ACCE –American Center for Credit Education
Carey Denman

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