The current cost of a four-year undergraduate college degree (from an accredited institution) can be anywhere from $40,000 to $184,000 depending on whether it’s public or private, in state or out. And that’s today’s rates ladies and gentlemen. If you dare peak into the future, the estimated cost is double. That’s right, double! That means if your bouncy baby Mini-Me wants to attend the hallowed halls of one of DFW’s finest colleges eighteen years from now, it will cost a mere $95,000 to $330,000!
The good news is that if you are like me, you will get to experience the joy of paying that tuition twice at the same time. Yep, like Bruce Spence in Mad Max: The Road Warrior, I’m currently staring down the equivalent of a double barrel collegiate shotgun because twins are the gift that keep on giving. Don’t worry though, I own the mineral rights to my home and I’m certain that if I dig long enough deep enough, I’ll strike something sooner or later. So aside from fracking and the earthquakes that follow, what can you do? Well, don’t call up Robert Wagner and reverse mortgage your home just yet. Here are a few ideas that might help.
1. Wait for college to become free
No matter what side of the argument you are on with this topic, odds are that it won’t happen anytime soon. And if it does, something else is bound to come along and take its place. Higher taxes anyone?
2. Student Loans
While a sound idea and the only way many can afford college, the truth is a lot of us are still paying off these loans some ten to fifteen years after graduation. Do you really want to saddle your children with this type of burden? I mean $95,000 to $330,000 plus interest is a heck of a character builder for someone just starting out. Student loans are the equivalent of taking the rope away from a person who has never climbed a mountain before, adding an extra 100 pounds of rocks in their backpack, and telling them there’s a tasty juice box waiting for them at the top if they make it.
3. Find a 529 plan and love it as long as you can
There are far too many articles out there depicting on how to do this so I'm not going to regurgitate that information here. Bottom line, a 529 plan is definitely a good investment vehicle for college savings. Word of caution though, not all 529s are created equal. So contact your local financial adviser for the best option for you.
Also, be careful not to sacrifice your own retirement savings for the sake of your child’s education. I promise you that little Johnny or Jill is not going to welcome you home with open arms in your waning years just because you paid for their college, not to mention changed their diapers! Fish and family start to stink after three days after all. That’s just how it goes.
4. It’s not your grandfather’s Community College
Community colleges have come a long way in recent years and are a great cost saver when it comes to paying for a college education. I for one have had the privilege of teaching at Collin County Community College and can speak first hand to the excellent quality of not only the facilities, but to the curriculum and the teaching staff as well. And when you consider that any Texas four-year university must accept passing credits as transfers, you have to ask yourself the question, “Why pay $40,000 for 2 years of education when I can get it done for $5,000?” For those that retort “because of the college experience,” I ask you if that experience is really worth an extra $35,000 to $70,000?
5. Communicate early and often
This is my personal favorite. The world is changing rapidly and so is the job market with it. On the sociological side, we are seeing a trend away from the necessity of college. Meaning, does everyone really need to go to college to be successful, to be happy? I’ll let that one resonate with you for a bit. Meantime, talk to your children early and often about possible careers, asking them what they want to be when they grow up. Show them role models as inspiration. Then ask yourself if college is necessary. I know a lot of plumbers for example, who are millionaires that didn’t go to college. As your children grow towards high school, start to mention little things like salary and success rates. Help them understand what is lasting passion and what is fleeting youthful exuberance.
I’m not saying drown a dream, but we mustn’t be unrealistic either, for that sets up a far greater sense of failure and disappointment for them in the future and a larger financial sinkhole for you. So when your little princess says “ballerina!” at age 5, say “Great!” and buy her a Tutu. But when she says the same thing at seventeen while thinking a pirouette is a tasty pastry at La Madeleine’s, don’t go rush to sign the tuition check for Butler the next day. In the words of one of the great faux philosophers of our time, Ali G, “Keep it real.” That’s all I’m saying.