Should Parents Pay for Their Kids’ College? (Expectations Have Changed)

In 2018, 69.1 percent of high school graduates went on to enroll in college the following fall according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But attending college is expensive, and costs continue to rise. While consumer items rose by 120 percent from 1980–2014, college expenses grew by 260 percent! Many years ago, college was more affordable, and parents often picked up the costs for their kids. But the expectation that parents will pay or help pay for their kids’ college tuition may be changing.

Who Pays for College?

According to, Discover Student Loans surveyed about 1,500 parents of college-bound students aged 16–18 in June of 2019 and found that only 28 percent of parents said they were willing and able to fund all college expenses for their kids. That’s down 6 percent in 2018. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of parents surveyed said they expect their children to pay not just a portion of, but most of, the cost of their higher education.

Skyrocketing College Costs

A parent’s decision to have kids pay for college, in part or in whole, often stems from necessity. Many parents would willingly shoulder this burden if they could. Many simply cannot. By one estimate, the college tuition cost, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses for a public four-year in-state college can total $25,300 per year while those costs for a public four-year out-of-state college comes to $41,000, and a private four-year college can cost $51,000 per year. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, three out of ten high-school graduates who go to four-year public colleges still have not earned a degree within six years. For private colleges, the number is more than one in five.

Considering that recent high school graduates usually have little to no savings, much less the amount required to pay for college, most turn to student loans to fund their educations. According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of this year. As of the last quarter of 2017, nearly eight million Americans owed $50,000 or more in student loans.

Is College Necessary?

Not only are these high costs causing people to question who should take on the burden of paying for college—students, parents, or a combination of the two—it’s also causing people to re-evaluate the necessity of a college education. In some instances, such as aspiring doctors and lawyers for example, college education is a necessity. In other cases, students can gain the requisite skills for their desired careers in other ways, including trade school, an apprenticeship program, an online program, etc.

Since the prospect of paying for college can be daunting to parents and students alike, it’s fortunate that college is not necessarily a prerequisite for success. Transportation managers, automotive repair technicians, welders, dental hygienists, insurance investigators, and paralegals are examples of well-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree. The idea that a college degree is essential to success is drilled into students, often at a young age. That message has had an ironic effect. Because so many high-school graduates go on to college, salaries for skilled trades and demand for skilled tradespeople continue to increase because they’re demand is outpacing supply in many places.

While many encourage students to pursue college as the automatic next step after high school graduation, it’s not the best option for everyone. By exploring careers in high school, students may identify a career field that interests them—and allows them to avoid the high cost of college and begin their adult life with a well-paying job as opposed to a mountain of debt.

If your student’s high school doesn’t offer career education, it may be time for a change. K12’s Destinations Career Academy — which combines traditional high school academics with industry-relevant, career-focused courses — allows students to explore their career interests before they begin the process of applying to and paying for college. Many discover that the career they’re interested in requires a specific training path that doesn’t involve college. Recently, K12 teamed up with Galvanize, a top provider of workforce training, to provide high-tech career skills to students in high school and to graduates. Such training can lead to successful, high-paying careers. In fact, graduates of Galvanize boot camps earn, on average, annual base salaries of $90,000 and above!

Before you send your child on the expensive path to college, be sure it is the best option. Career education can help with these decisions!


Related Articles

Join our community

Sign up to participate in America’s premier community focused on helping students
reach their full potential.