The Upside To Not Saving For Your Child's College Education

If you’re doing everything you can to save for your children’s college education, chances are it’s because you think that will give your kids the best start in life.

Here’s a radical thought: Maybe the best thing you can do for your kids is ask them to pay at least some of their own way.

New research from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University finds that kids whose parents are footing the entire college bill, including tuition, books, housing and recreation money, were most likely to be partying and possibly floundering.

“Parents who pay for everything -- including their children’s recreation and fun money -- they have children who are more heavily into drinking, drug use, marijuana use,” said Laura Padilla-Walker, associate professor of at BYU’s School of Family Life.

Padilla-Walker’s research also found that the kids whose parents were paying for everything had less of a sense of what they wanted to do in the future than those who were getting little or no help from Mom and Dad. Not surprisingly, they also were less likely to be working while going to school.

The findings, which were based on an analysis of about 400 college kids across the country, suggest that it may be good for kids to at least pay for some of their own expenses while they are in college. Without the structure of a job or the responsibility of having to pay some of their own way, some kids may simply be getting distracted.

At the very least, parents may be able to stop fretting so much about saving for college.

“It doesn’t look like you have to pay all your student’s college expenses in order for them to be successful,” Padilla-Walker said.

You may want to help out somewhat, however. In her study, the kids that seemed the most focused on school and the future were actually the ones that were getting no help at all.

Still, she cautioned that that route also has its pitfalls. Some kids who are footing the bill on their own might take longer to graduate or have to drop out because they can’t afford to keep going to school. They also may not take the time to really figure out what they are best suited for in terms of a career.

A sharper focus on the long-term goal of college, rather than the partying aspect, is clearly beneficial. Padilla-Walker noted that many kids are taking longer than the usual four years to graduate from school, and some aren’t really getting a start in life until they are 28 or 30.

“I think most parents would prefer it to be closer to the 25 range,” she said.

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