Should Parents Be Responsible For Their Child’s College Education?

Does a parents educational responsibility to their child end after high school? We all know that times are changing and our workforce is becoming more and more specialized. Prior to globalization, one could graduate high school and get a job at the local factory and live a perfectly normal life. Now those same factory jobs are getting outsourced overseas. Times are changing! Those low skill jobs are now easily outsourced or replaced by technology. So what’s left?

Death of Low Skilled Workers

According to a just-released report by the McKinsey Global Institute, between 90 and 95 million low-skilled workers, or 2.6% of the global workforce, could be permanently jobless by 2020.

At the same time, employers will increasingly seek medium-  and high-skilled workers, meaning those who have completed secondary school and some vocational training, and workers with college or postgraduate degrees.

In advanced economies, says the report, demand for high-skilled labor is growing faster than supply, while demand for low-skilled labor is weakening. Says the report, “Income inequality is growing as lower-skill workers—including 75 million young people—experience unemployment, underemployment, and stagnating wages.”

The Parents’ Duty to Their Child

What that says to me is that high skill/high education is the way of the future, with that said, I also believe parents are obligated to prepare their children for the world. As a parent, I have to do what’s best for my child, and in this instance that means making the necessary sacrifices and setting aside the funds to ensure my child is prepared for the world.

I believe that parents need to pay for higher education of all their children. You may be thinking well they can just take out student loans and be prepared for the world’s demands. That is true, but the average college student who graduated in 2011 had $26,600 in student loans. That’s a lot of money to repay and a huge burden for a new college graduate.

What Does The Personal Finance Community Think?

I’ve decided to ask several people for their opinion on the matter, so I took to the interwebs and asked a simple question.  “Do you think it’s the parents responsibility to pay for their child’s higher education?” The answered  I received were all over the map, but I loved it. I’m a natural debater and definitely value a difference of opinion. Here is what some of my personal finance friends had to say.

Jesse Michelsen:

Personally, no. I don’t think that is a parents responsibility. Even if a parent is financially secure and has the available funds, higher education isn’t cheap and I don’t think kids appreciate going to college as much on a handout like that. This coming from a 26-year-old college grad with 50k in student loans. Yeah, loans suck, but they aren’t my parents responsibility nor is it their education. And part of the experience of college was working out all the loan paperwork, applying for scholarships and/or getting a job to pay for the cost.

Doug Nordman:

I think it’s reasonable for parents to offer to pay for four years at community/state college, as long as they’re financially on track for their own retirement. Anything above & beyond that is the teen’s funding challenge. Upon further reflection, I think we should acknowledge that subsidizing an adult child’s college education is a small price to pay to get them out of the nest and to minimize the chance of a boomeranger… at least that’s my hope.

Eric Rosenberg:

I don’t believe that it is a parent’s responsibility to pay for their child’s tuition, but I do believe they are responsible for ensuring they have the resources available to get a college education. By providing financial education and encouragement, they are helping their children make the right decisions to get to a good school to get a degree that will LEAD TO A JOB that will help the students pay for college themselves.

Todd R. Tresidder:

To the extent a parent wants the best for his/her child, yes, providing for education is a core responsibility. Education is the ultimate equalizer in our society that gives children from any social-economic status the tools needed so that their only limitation is drive and ability.

Teresa Mears:

It depends. Can the parents afford it? What sort of contribution did the child make? Fabulous grades? Helping out the family in other ways? I put myself through college, but it meant that I had to spend more time working and less time studying than was optimal. Still, my parents had five other children and couldn’t afford to send me to college. I think the child should make some contribution (summer jobs, maybe), but the decision also really depends on the financial resources of the parents and the personality of the child.

Miranda Marquit:

My parents took the approach that I plan to take with my son. I was responsible for tuition, and they paid room and board. I knew this going in, and worked to get scholarships. (Although, young and stupid as I was, it didn’t stop me from getting student loans.) I think it’s a great compromise, and one that encourages parents to help while at the same time teaching the child to take ownership of his or her education.

Tracie Richmond Fobes:

I don’t think it is solely the responsibility of either party. When a child has a financial obligation to pay any portion of his/her secondary education, he/she is more vested and takes ownership of it. That in turn can help them work harder to make sure that they graduate. At the same time, I think parents should help so that your child starts out his/her adult life on stable financial ground. That can be the first stepping stone towards financial independence. As a parent, it is my responsibility to help my child reach goals, but not my job to foot the bill completely.

Jackie Beck:

Short answer? No, but it sure helps. Long answer? I think it’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure the child is prepared to earn a living in some way—whether that’s helping to pay for college or other type of school, encouraging them to study abroad and pursue their interests, putting out the word for internships, or whatever. I especially think it’s the parents responsibility to actively try and prevent their child from taking on debt to pay for school.

Philip Taylor:

No, it’s not their responsibility. Parents should focus on becoming financially secure and planning for their own future. It’s cliche, but Mom and Dad can’t take out a loan for retirement. There’s a lot of hype about the post secondary costs due to the bubble, but you can still afford a good college degree by working, getting federal help, and borrowing at subsidized rates. College is a great deal if you get the right degree. With all of that said, I plan on being able to help my kids some with their college, and we are using 529 Plans to save.

Roger Wohlner:

We instilled in our three kids from the day they popped out that they would attend college. We have been fortunate that our two oldest have received significant scholarships and merit aid to some pricey private schools. We have still written some hefty checks and our youngest is at an in-state public university so we pay most of that. There is nothing more important in this parent’s mind than getting our kids started down the right path in life.

Gen Y Finances:

I plan on funding as much of my (future) children’s college costs as possible. My parents paid for my education, and I am so grateful that I didn’t have to start out my professional career with student loan debt. The one downside was that for the first couple years of employment, I didn’t feel like I had any obligations, so I spent way too much money on useless stuff. Hopefully I’ll be able to get them started on the right foot like my parents did for me while making a point to be as transparent as possible so they better understand the value of their education.

Money Beagle:

I’ve seen people whose parents have paid for every dollar of college, and I’ve seen people whose parents have paid nothing.  I think somewhere in between is the right answer.  Paying for all of it doesn’t teach the student anything, where paying for none puts a pretty heavy burden.  I think parents will set the proper tone if they save for their child’s education throughout their early life.  Talking about it as the child grows and gets nearer to college age will demonstrate the long term commitment involved with college, as well as help the child understand the costs.  I think this will better prepare students as they enter college, and later as they leave college, since this will provide a solid base of financial know-how that is a huge part of their true education.

So… What’s My Plan?

The moment I knew my daughter was going to be born in 2013, my wife and I sat down and constructed a plan to pay for her education. We simply dumped a lump sum into vanguard ETF funds. We will reinvest all the dividends and rebalance the portfolio every 6 months. If my estimates are right she will have enough to go to any school she desires by time she is ready.

I believe that it’s the parents obligation to guide the child in the right school choice that makes the most business and financial sense. I find it odd that people think letting an 18-year-old make an almost 100K education decision is somehow teaching them financial responsibility. To me it’s not… It’s like riding a bike. You give them training wheels, a helmet and some knee pads first, and then slowly take that stuff away. However, anything higher than a bachelor degree she is on her own, unless she gets scholarships for the bachelors degree. Then we will use the money saved to support her in business or additional education.

Philip Taylor brings up a great point that the parent needs to ensure they are set for their retirement first. Fortunately, we do not have issues financially.

Do you think it’s your responsibility to pay for your child’s education?

Does the high education / high skill workforce of the future scare you?

How are you preparing your child/children for the future financially?

Are parents responsible for the student loan bubble?

Are you a bad parent if you don’t pay for your child’s education?


  • Nice post and a great array of opinions, thanks for including my two cents worth. As you will find out parenting is both the hardest and most rewarding adventure that you will ever undertake.

  • Tracie /

    Loved the array of opinions and even though I differ from some of them, I have nothing but respect for these great financial bloggers.

  • Coming from a relatively poor family, I don’t think that parents should be responsible for paying for college education. College is a decision and action made by the child as an adult. I don’t see why we would expect parents to be any more on the hook to pay for it then the adult-child’s first house or new car.
    Where I think the student loan bubble is coming from is degree inflation. Not all jobs need a college degree, even if the job description says one is required. To become a State Trooper in NJ, a degree is required; why? And not all jobs are out-source-able either. Repairmen, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, road workers, retail clerks, and cooks all need to be employed on-site and their jobs are safe.
    Meanwhile, as telecommunications get more and more instantaneous and education levels rise in other countries, higher and higher skilled positions will be off-shored. 20 years from now, my job in road construction is probably safer than that of my friend the CFO.

  • Edward,

    According to a just-released reportfollow by the McKinsey Global Institute, between 90 and 95 million low-skilled workers, or 2.6% of the global workforce, could be permanently jobless by 2020. The report shows that high skill / specialized workers are the way of the future.

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