Friday, December 05, 2008

On the FAFSA and paying for one's child's college

College financing has been on my mind pretty much 80% of the time these days. We're fast coming up on the time when we will fill out the FAFSA for the first time to determine what our family ostensibly can afford to pay toward Miss B's college bills. We have forced her to set aside half of her earnings, split between a College Savings Iowa account and a passbook savings account, so she has a little set aside (some of it went toward her 3 mission trips). We don't have a lot in savings; most of our money goes toward our retirement funds* and the house. And right at this very moment, our income is excellent, but we anticipate it being decimated in a few weeks here.

So my friend L and I were talking about this yesterday and she said she and her husband didn't even bother to fill it out. I think we will have to, no matter what, because of the job change situations we are facing, and I would probably do it even if we didn't think there was any chance of it helping us, but I was rather curious how many families just don't bother with it. We had an informational meeting at the high school a few weeks ago, at which most of us parents of seniors came and learned about filling it out, and the mom of one of her friends commented to me that the only people she knew who were eligible for need-based financial aid were out of work entirely - and in fact, she knew of one family where the parents refused to look for work because it would mess up their family's eligibility for financial aid.

Anyway, out of curiosity, I did a google search on "filling out the FAFSA - why bother?" And after reading a couple of things that I found, I am really disgusted. Perhaps by chance, the first 3 sites I clicked on were message boards where college-aged people were complaining about their parents refusing to pay what they were supposed to for college. Evidently these kids thought that if the EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) came back as, say, $50,000, their parents were "supposed to" write a check for $50,000. On one board, they were commiserating with one girl whose mother "refused" to help her with college, saying how sad it was that her mother was so uncaring and heartless. And this was after the mother had already paid $30,000 for the first semester at a private college! Another kid was complaining that his parents had earmarked "only" $60,000 for his college and refused to borrow any more. Borrow. For his college.

I almost registered for one site in order to blast these young'uns for this, and then thought better of it. Not helpful. But it does give me pause. I wonder if my own children have such a nebulous idea of our family finances that they honestly expect us to pay whatever the EFC turns out to be when they go to college? When did things change so much that it is optional for a child to have a part-time job during college? Huh?? Isn't that part of the college experience?

The EFC, by the way, is estimated FAMILY contribution. Not Parent contribution. So the kids are allowed to contribute to that. In fact, whether she understands it or not, Miss B's savings goes toward that.

That's another thing to add to the agenda of the Big Family Meeting Barry and I are planning to have with the children.

Barry heard a program on Wisconsin Public Radio a couple of weeks ago contrasting college-going today with college-going a generation or two ago. Now colleges sell themselves to prospective students based on the food, the housing, the activities. The fun. The color. Used to be, you went to college to learn, and all the rest was immaterial.

I feel more and more like an old fogey here.

The FAFSA informational booklet we were given had a little note to students contemplating college to remind them that going to school means financial sacrifice, that it is a choice and means giving up other things that one might like to have. Kind of a "duh" thing, but really, I bet it sounds ridiculous to lots of people. Yes, the college years are supposed to be fun. Yes, they are probably a young person's first taste of independence**. Yes, they will bring lots of new opportunities and experiences. But no, they are not meant to be a newer, more opulent lifestyle, and no, parents are not supposed to go horribly into debt to afford them. The student is the one who benefits from college, not the parents, and therefore, I think the student should be the one to pay for it. As he or she goes. Not with an enormous debt that dogs his or her steps for years after graduation, keeping him or her from marrying or starting a family or buying a home. It's not worth it.

* Most of those were in the stock market. Note I use the past tense here.

** If parents are paying for it, how independent is this independence, really? Come ON now.


Mrs. Mac said...

We went through this just this past spring with L. Ann. It was made known from a very early age that college is not the only way to job success. Trade schools, etc. are options as well. A four year, dorm type of setting would be mostly on her shoulders. Our parents didn't pay for our further education, so that was our mindset. K. Elizibeth went to dental college and did get some aid because she was married and didn't make as much $ (separated from us). S. Patrick joined the military and gets $40K for school. When we applied for the FASFA last spring, we were told our contribution would be 48K. We could put in for special circumstances now that Mr. Mac has retired, but he's working again and gets a pension. Ann opted to start out at a community college and is working on her A.S. + dental assisting. The medical field is fairly recession proof. With some further training after the community college, she can have a pretty good paying job. We are able to pay her tuition each quarter. She pays for her phone and car insurance and half of her gas. Community college has been a good choice for her and is reasonably priced. One of Ann's high school friends enrolled at the U of Idaho, lived on campus, etc. He's back home and waiting to go to our local college in Jan. Seems his frat friends were more than he could put up with.

Aaron said...

Gotta agree with where I think both you and Mrs. Mac are going.

Neither Vania nor I graduated with any college debt. She qualified for scholarships, and worked her fine little you-know-what off summers and parttime during term. I did not qualify for anything scholarly, but worked a lot. It took me a while to finish the degree, but I got there eventually. We also attended lo-cost colleges (I found out afterwards that AC was priced like a community college!).

For MCD, our developing philosophy is looking like:
1. Community college for first 2 years.
2. Live at home, if necessary: we'll feed you, and help repair a car or whatever from time to time, but you come up with the rest of the cost of your education. Skip a semester to work, if needed.
3. Bachelor's degrees aren't the only option, and are pushed on a lot of young people today who would be happier preparing for work and adulthood in other ways. Vo-tech schools, apprenticeships, military. Lotsa options.

goldenneedle said...

We are in the same boat.....I say fill out the filling out also determines the student loans if they are needed....there are some very nice loans you can get with no interest until after graduation takes place...but the forms have to be filled out.

Our daughter opted for the first two years at the community college, lived at home with us and will be going off to another university to finish the degree next year. All told with by going this route major dollars have been saved. Our goal is to get her educated debt free and so far we are on track for that.

Karen L