As often happens, when I visit with friends our conversation will turn to the subject of college costs and all that we have to consider as parents when our children are in college or are about to be. Recently, I was visiting with my friend Cheryl and we started discussing the guilt that we can feel as parents when we are not able to take care of college expenses for our children. At some point I asked Cheryl about turning our discussion into an ‘interview’ so that other parents could benefit from her experience. Debt free college is very important to many families.
Cheryl and her husband Bill have been married for 21 years. They chose to home educate both of their children. Their son, William is 20 years old and in his second year of college. Jena Ruth is 18 years old and will begin college this fall. Bill is a television director and Cheryl has stayed at home in order to educate the children. Cheryl did tell me that she and Bill have always told their children that they would need to pay for their own college education and that they would help them out as they were able.
Me: Did you go to college? Did Bill?
Cheryl: Yes. I did go to college but I did not finish, I got married. Bill attended college right after high school. He left college after 2 years to join the service. He was a journalist in the navy where he received most of his broadcast training.
Me: Is it very important to you that your kids get a degree or are you a little more flexible?
Cheryl: It is very important to me for my kids to get a degree. Our son always planned to attend college. He knew what he wanted to do and what education he would need from an early age. Our daughter came to us in middle school and told us she did not want to go to college. My first reaction (internally) was to panic but I didn’t want to scare her so we talked about what she might like to do and what type of training or schooling she would need. She was adamant for a number of years that she would not go to college. However, one day we were teaching some young children and she said maybe she would, in order to teach. She could see the end justifying the means. The Lord was gracious to show me that I wanted her to go to college because I had not finished my education. He helped me to not be rigid. And now Jena and I see that our need is for the right training.
Me: Did you hope or plan to pay for school for your kids?
Cheryl: I did hope that we would be able to pay for college but we knew that would probably not be the case.
Me: Where does your son attend? How much of his expenses is he responsible for at this point?
Cheryl: Our son attends The College at Southeastern, in Wake Forrest, NC. Will works full time (3 jobs) and pays for his rent, food & expenses. We pay for tuition and books.
Me: How did you determine how you would help him? Did you say that you would pay a certain amount per month toward his costs? Or did you take the approach of only paying for certain things?
Cheryl: We sit down before each semester and discuss a budget. We determine what our contribution can be and what he can reasonably pay. For example, Will normally pays his car insurance but this is a slow time at work so he is making less. Since, we are paying his car insurance, he is taking fewer classes.
Me: Has this worked so far?
Cheryl: This has worked for us. All four of us are committed to completing college without any student debt. We want Will and Jena to learn now that debt can cripple them, just as it cripples millions of families all over America. Debt early in our marriage caused us to miss mission and giving opportunities.
Me: Many parents feel guilty if they are unable to cover all college costs. Do you struggle with that? How do you handle those feelings?
Cheryl: Sometimes it is frustrating. I don’t want Will to have to take fewer classes because of other expenses. Sometimes, I wish that we could just cover everything and it be easier on him. But, I believe that God is in control. We trust God to provide for us and our children. He has a plan for each of their lives.
Me: Do you have a similar or a different approach with your daughter?
Cheryl: We have a similar plan for Jena. She is also committed to completing college without student debt. She has been saving for college through out high school. She plans to begin classes online in the fall. I think the only difference is that we are cautious about what jobs would be appropriate for her from a safety stand point.
Me: What would you like to tell other families who are in the situation of not being able to pay for their kid’s college expenses? What is the most important thing that you have learned through this process?
Cheryl: We believe that debt is crippling families. We do not want our children to come out of college and be so in debt that they are unable to serve or minister. We heard testimonies of families, who are unable to go on the mission field, adopt or serve in a particular ministry because they are a slave to the debt hanging over their head. Having your children contribute to their college expense builds character and a sense of ownership. If tomorrow we could pay for all of Will’s education, it would probably look different but we would still want Will to work. He has shown great maturity and determination. We think he is more focused and does better in general. We think it is good for young men to work hard, be busy and tired. The most important thing we have learned is that there isn’t any one way to do it. It doesn’t have to look the way everyone else does it. You can be creative.
Me: So true Cheryl. Thanks so much for being transparent with us today.
Bill and Cheryl have done a great job of communicating honestly and openly with their teens and I believe that this has gone a long way toward helping their kids have a strong work ethic when it comes to paying their own way through school. Many parents suffer tremendous guilt over not being able to foot the entire college bill for their kids or end up going into enormous debt. Neither of those options sounds good to me. I am thankful for the example of the Coen family!
How do you plan to handle college expenses? Have you started talking with your kids about options for your family?