Should Parents Be Prepared To Pay For Their Kids’ College Education?

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Student loans are on everyone’s mind right now. The national student loan debt has reached over $1 trillion dollars. That’s more than credit cards or car loans. President Obama is on the campaign trail discussing the crushing burden of student loans on the backs of recent graduates. The House of Representatives is trying to find ways to pay for low interest rates on Stafford loans.

As a 26 year old woman who attended a private school in Pennsylvania, I’m pretty familiar with student loans. I have plenty of friends and family members who are still making payments, years after they’ve graduated and moved on to their “real lives.” And I think all of us realize the difficult place we’re putting young people in, where they feel like college is a necessity to earn a decent income. And yet, attending college puts them thousands of dollars in debt before they ever have a chance to get their financial footing.

Yes, as a young woman, I feel like the cost of a college education is something that we all should be discussing.

As a mother, this cost isn’t just something we need to talk about, it’s something that keeps me up at night. Recently, Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney suggested that students should borrow money from their parents to get an education or to start a business. More and more, parents are beginning to accept the idea that we’ll need to spend an incredible amount of money helping our children make it through college without crushing student loan debt. But are we prepared for that?

I consider myself to be a pretty lucky mother. I’ve been able to start saving for my daughter’s college education. By putting away about $500 a month, I thought that my husband and I would be well-prepared to take care of our little girl and her college expenses. Now I’m realizing that what I thought was a reasonable savings will only cover about half of the cost.

Using a basic college cost estimator, I’ve found some pretty scary figures. Attending an in-state public university for four years will cost about $173,568 when my daughter gets around to attending college in 2026. If she wants to attend New England private school, that would run approximately $415,696. Heaven help me if she considers a graduate degree.

For the sake of this being a Saturday, let’s use a nice round number. Let’s assume that my daughter’s education is going to cost her $200,000. With my current savings, which I’ve always considered to be pretty significant in terms of college preparation, I’ll still only have $108,000 when she starts college. That’s just barely more than half of the costs. Even with a substantial investment from her parents, my daughter would need to shoulder $92,000 through student loans or part-time jobs.

And let me remind you, this is considering a family whose has been saving since their child was an infant. Plenty of people are not in a position to save that kind of money when they have young children. In fact, probably most parents aren’t able to put back that kind of money every month just for future educations.

Oh, and we’re only talking about one child. Let’s not even go into the fact that we might have a second. I certainly wouldn’t be able to save $1000 a month, especially with the added cost of another person in the household. That extra mouth to feed and butt to diaper would make it even harder to save the original $500.

This sounds like quite a problem for me, right? I know I’m talking about college costs in terms of my own family, but every parent in the country is going to be facing the same challenges. Can we really be prepared to pay for this expense? Or will the current student loan crisis only continue to get worse?

What are you plans for paying for college? Are you trying to save to help your children? Should parents be responsible for helping their kids pay for college, or is that even going to be a possibility for the next generation of graduates?