Wednesday, August 04, 2004

College Expenses
We have received a comment that, cheaply as we may think we can get by with babies, vast expenditures are lurking eighteen years down the road. Now, we may only have a baby so far, but remember we were just in college ourselves and are still pursuing additional credentials. Also DOB is a financial planner and helps people save for their children's education, so we are not blind to the costs.

First of all, let me make a shocking pronouncement: Parents have no moral obligation to put their children through college. None. If you feed and clothe your child until he is able to work for himself, and give him enough education to read fluently, write coherently, and do enough math to not get cheated, you have fulfilled your financial obligation towards the child.

Further, parents aren't required to fund a college education for all their children, even if they do it for some. My parents funded some of their children's post-high school training and not others, depending on a wide variety of factors, including their own inscrutable reasons. We don't hate each other.

And not every child needs to go to college. None of my grown brothers has a college degree. One works in construction, and one is in the navy. One is a manager at a large software firm, and has never been held back by his lack of a degree. There are still a lot of fields where what you can do is more important than how many extra letters you have.

But there are many fields where credentials are necessary, and it's likely enough some of our children will want to pursue some of them. If we have the money to help them out, we might want to do so. And if we do so, I will repeat the lecture my mother gave to all teenagers: "Getting the credentials is just a game. Find the quickest and cheapest way to jump through the hoops that you can, and get it over with."

There are scholarships. There are work/study programs. There are much cheaper schools than Harvard. There are equivalence tests. If they really want an education, they can work and study for it. If they don't want it enough to help reduce the costs in one of the above ways, why should we pay for it?

This mindset leaves out two important aspects of a college education. One is the social aspect. About this, I am heartlessly indifferent. Any advantage of meeting different people and ideas they miss out on they can have while engaged in productive activity; any advantage of hanging out with other juveniles they can fund on their own. The other is the possibility of pursuing a great liberal arts education, broadening the mind and joining in the Great Conversation. Most colleges don't do this anymore, and those that do are by no means necessarily the most expensive. Besides, it is my hope that we'll raise them so that they will be broadening their minds and thinking about great ideas for their whole lives.

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