Tuesday, July 22, 2014

So How Are We Going to Afford to Send All These Kids to College?

One of the very first questions people ask me upon finding out about our family size is "But how are you going to afford college?"  Well, first of all, that's a wee bit rude.  Secondly, my oldest is only 11.  Third, we don't believe in only having babies if you can afford to send them to college.  And fourth, which is the answer I give them, is "I don't know".  

The I don't know is very scary when I dwell on it.  I mean, most of our parenthood has been based on faith and trust that we are doing the best we can, and God will fill in the gaps.  So most days I try not  to think of the impending overpriced college tuition (times six!) and I just pray that my kids will find a way to make it work, if that's what they want.  

It does make me feel better to think that my parents had six kids and four of us went to college through work study, scholarships, financial aid, and student loans.  The last two were my oldest brother, who joined the Army in order to get free college education, and my oldest sister, who got her four years at Providence College free because she is a smarty pants.  Somehow we all survived, got the educations we needed to get the jobs we wanted and have been able to pay those debts off.

But do you know how much four years of tuition at Franciscan University of Steubenville cost when I applied in 1997?  $44,000.  Do you know how much it is expected to cost in 7 years, when J-P is old enough to attend? About $200,000.  And when Declan is looking to go to college? $330,000.  Whaaaaat?

Perhaps a swimming scholarship is in his future?

Without financial aid and scholarships, there's no way I want my kids to go into that much debt to pay for college.  It will just set them up for failure.  So I will continue to pray for an answer if college is in their future plans.  Phil and I are very much in favor of our kids learning a trade if possible and making a good living on a job that doesn't require a 4 year degree.  Did you know that an elevator installer makes close to $75,000?  That's WAY more than my Catholic high school teaching husband with two Masters degrees makes.  

Don't get me wrong, just because I think college is overpriced does not mean I think it is unimportant.  It's ignorant to think our children won't need a college degree to get a good job, because for almost every white collar job, a college degree is required. Actually, it's just a very basic requirement...usually employers are looking for a  more advanced degree.  All I know for sure is that we want them to be well educated, no matter what they decide to do.  My mom always told us that we could be bus drivers if we wanted to, as long as we were educated bus drivers.  I would reply that I all I wanted to be was a wife and mother, and she would say the same thing, "you'll be an educated wife and mother". 

 I'm so thankful I had her influence since even though being a stay at home mom of many was my life goal, I was extremely grateful to have my MBA to put to use when my vocation expanded to include full-time working mom of many.  God forbid I didn't have my education to fall back on when we couldn't survive as a one income family anymore.  What if something happens to my husband in the future and he can't work?  You can bet I will praise the Lord that I was able to get through college and my Master's program.  I don't regret the years of study and the piles of debt, it's what I wanted and achieved and found a way to pay back.  I don't understand when people are mad about the debt they incurred.  You chose to do that!  Yes, it's a hardship to start your adult life out being in debt, but at least you have the tools you need to get a job to pay off that debt, right?

Probably not going to happen, but one can hope!

But back to my kids...what does the future hold for them?  What can I do to give them the education they need and want?  I know a family who's mother worked in a university's cafeteria to get free tuition for her kids, and another family whose dad became a janitor for the same reason.  That sounds like a good future plan, and I already have experience from when I cleaned bathrooms at Steubie!  For now, we are hellbent on giving them great Catholic school educations through high school, and then hope to guide them in their decision making process for the future.  We know that Heaven is the ultimate goal, but using their God given talents and working hard while on this Earth are what they are called to do on the path towards eternal life, and I hope we can help them achieve their dreams.


  1. Your mom is a very wise woman. My mom didn't believe in women going to college. I wish she had been more encouraging or I wish that I had had more of a spine and did it anyway.

  2. This is a great post. Paying for our 4 to go to college is a top priority for Kirk and me because our parents paid for our school and their parents paid for their school. . . . we don't want to break the cycle. I have set up college funds which I know will not cover it, but it will at least help. It is one of the reasons that I work. But, I am going to be realistic about it just like I am with private elementary school. If we can't afford to send them to a private university then they are going to have to go to a State school. Kirk and I will work our butts off to try and make it an option for our kids though, I sure would like them to experience the love for the Lord over the love for beer ;)!

  3. I worry about this too with my four. We plan to help out as able, but my husband and I paid our way, so they could too if needed. :)

  4. Truth spoken here. We take the same approach. I have no idea if and how college would work but I'm hoping by the time our kids reach that age this whole tuition inflation thing will have imploded or a new model will be in process.

  5. We are living this right now as I have three girls that are college aged. One started at a private college with scholarships and financial aid but by the second year the tuition took a big jump and we couldn't cover our part. It was a tough thing to do but she had to leave. Now the oldest three go to junior college and since they are all there, the grant money they get is enough to cover part time tuition. I absolutely do not want them to get sucked down in debt. We have nieces and nephews who have left college with between 50K and 80K in debt - that doesn't include what their girlfriends/boyfriends are carrying either. Every one of them wishes they had done it a different way. It may take longer to get that degree, but there are ways around incurring huge amounts of debt. Personally, I loved college and I had always hoped my kids could experience it, too, but right now the system stinks! Maybe it will change one day :)

  6. Colleen,
    You are on the other side of forty. I remember being there, and now as I have passed that milestone, I am reminded of the peace of heart and mind it brings. When I was younger, I felt compelled to listen to, focus on, and respond either in thoughts or in actions to these comments from others.
    You see, I was one to care what others thought. Now, I don't. And please understand it is not a bitter, "I don't care what other people think!" No... It is a peaceful realization that this is MY life. My one life. I don't get another. So...I can choose to live it the way I want to. Making the decisions based on what I believe is best for me and my family.
    With this realization comes a freedom. Freedom to do what I want without a care or concern for the thoughts of others. I realize that no matter what, people will not always agree. And that is ok. People will always have questions and concerns. And that is alright. Because so do I.
    Work or stay at home. Homeschool or send your children to school. Breast feed or bottle feed. Provide college for your children or have them take out loans. College or work force. One child or ten. The list goes on and on.
    The wonderful thing about it is this...once you reach a certain age...for me it was forty...it all becomes clear...it doesn't matter what others say or think. Period. Live your life without worrying a bit about others. They have their own opinions and I have mine. Perhaps they are the same. Maybe not. But trying to change their views or explaining myself or even spending time thinking about it in my mind takes time. Time I need for other things. Like living. This sounds preachy. And I guess it is. I am relaying to you the newfound freedom I have now as an older mother. I wish someone would have filled me in on this little secret of aging. Then again...they probably did. I just had to wait and find out for myself. : )

  7. I love this post so much! I found myself nodding along with every paragraph. My husband and I are Catholic converts, and we would love to have more than two children (we already have our boy and girl, and our families are stunned that we want more). I can't tell you how many times I've heard the "how in the world will you be able to afford to send more than two children to college?" argument. Well, with the way things are going, we won't even be able to afford to send the two we have right now. Does that mean we should have never had children? It just baffles me that college always seems to be the do-all, end-all when it comes to decisions about family planning. (And I say this as a college-educated women who recently finished paying off student loan debt!). :)

  8. My mother-in-law had 8 kids, and that's the rude question people were always asking her, too. And yet 8 got college degrees--6 through ROTC scholarships and the other 2 through loans, campus employment, etc. It can be done.

    And I think it's so great that your mom said even if you were a SAHM, you needed to be an educated one. My parents often make me feel like they think the sacrifices they made for me to get my college degree were a bit wasted, since I've never worked outside the home. As someone above said, your mom was very wise!

  9. Jon and I have this conversation about sending our four to college every so often. His goal is to do what his parents did, be able to afford/fund (maybe through loans of our own over time) in state tuition for four years for each kid. If they choose to go to a more expensive college it would be their responsibility to fund the difference between state tuition and their tuition (through loans or scholarships). But we would cover the equivalent for the four year, in state tuition. I earned a scholarship for my college years so there is always the hope that even one kid would be able to do that! All in all though I try not to think about it which is odd since I am a planner by nature, but coming up with that much money x 4 is a little daunting at best.
    I also don't believe that college is for everyone, and most definitely not for everyone immediately out of high school. Many kids know where they want to go and how to get there but just as many go to college just because it is the expected thing. I'd like my kids to take a year if they want to, or maybe a couple of years, and work in an area where they think they would like to be. Or go to a community college for a year or two while they figure out the whole college and "rest of my life" thing. I worked full time while getting my masters and Jon is currently working full time while getting his masters. My brother earned an Associates Degree while working part time and is now making more then Jon with a bachelors is (and even when Jon has a masters he'll still make less than my brother). So a four year college isn't a must do for everyone. There are just so many paths that they can take, I don't want them to feel that they must go straight to college from high school if they truly don't know where they are going in life.
    All in all I want to raise happy, well adjusted children who become happy, productive members of society, who have common sense and can take care of themselves. If I succeed there then I will be happy, with or without four college graduates.

  10. I only have two little ones right now but this is something both my husband and I think about. We went to a small private liberal arts college and while we loved it, I'm not sure the degree was worth the price. Especially because we graduated in the heart of the recession. I want my kids to be able to choose their school but at the same time I think we are going to push a state school. Hopefully God will help it all become a reality for them if that's the path they choose.

  11. It is SO WEIRD to me that there is this expectation that parents will pay for their 18+ old kids college choices. With a crud-ton of debt, and some bad choices, each of my siblings and I (who went) paid our way through college. It was funny, when Aaron and I got married, it was actually a debate between us. He would like to set aside some money each month (like $400 I think) to use towards our kid's schooling. I think that's silly talk. First- it won't even make a dent in their reality, Second- I REALLY think it's up to my kids to figure that out (like, I have zero sense of guilt attached to probably not being able to pay for my kid's adult schooling). Aaron won, but I still protest occasionally. Like Mary said, I am hoping the education bubble bursts- but then there is the other reality that a BA means very little now a days in terms of job security. We will be encouraging our children to learn a trade and push community college whilst working for at least the first two years of school. Good stuff- thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. OH man, I'm so conflicted about this right now. I went to Benedictine and have large loans to pay back. It's hard. I think college is worth it, but with the inflation the way it is, if any of my kids are called to a trade or another financially good path, I'm all for it. But I have nine brothers and sisters and we've all figured it out, so it's not impossible. Either or, it's a private matter, so I can't ever understand why people feel like they can ask about it. But I'm definitely of the opinion that basing how many kids you have on whether you can send them to college is a little silly. After all, some of them may not even want to go. Keep up the good work, Colleen!...:)

  13. Yes to all of this. Since I will still be paying back my law school loans (and my husband's) when my kids are in college, I'm not exactly concerned about how to pay for THEM. Ha! Also, I can't afford to send ONE kid to college. Who can? It's insane! Here's what it comes down to. I am not going to let the fact that the United States can't collectively figure out how to provide decent, low cost higher education to its people dictate my family size. I'm just not. I'm committed to giving my kids enough for state school tuition. If they want the kind of job that requires a degree from Harvard, then we probably made a wrong turn at some point along the way. Future investment bankers are not exactly my goal. But this is a challenge. My husband is third-generation Ivy League and his family is going to be appalled if our kids go to UMass.

  14. My husband and I both came from poor families. I went to community college for two years (completely paid for in scholarships) with no debt, and then transferred to a university and got by on $5000 a year (this was 20 years ago of course!). My husband got everything paid for in scholarships.

    skilled trades can pay very well. Dental Hygiene and Plumber come to mind. :)

  15. Amen! I have eight siblings. I'm the third. Many of the older ones out ourselves through and as my parents have been able, they've helped with the younger ones. I have a master's degree and I've paid my way as I've gone for all of it.

    There are ways to make it work. I got my first two years at a community college, worked full time during my second two, and went to a public university for my master's.

    We're seriously considering moving across the state line to Iowa (15 minutes away) to get lower cost university for our kids.

  16. I'm not a mother or a wife (or an American!), but I am a university student.

    I'm an Australian and I'm doing my Masters degree at the moment. Australian universities are publicly funded (well, not the private ones, but nearly no one chooses to go private) and while we incur a debt, the government pays some of our tuition straight up and we pay back the rest (interest-free, too) once we earn $40+ a year.

    I feel sick with anxiety when I hear about the debts that Americans incur...I hope everything works out okay for you all.

  17. AnonymousJuly 23, 2014

    Education is important but I think that the idea that everyone must go to post secondary education and have a degree can lead us to being very secular in our thinking. My constant state of pregnant has led me into issues in my workplace. It has led me to try to control areas of my life that should be up to God. I have put too much emphasis on the credentials behind my name when I should be putting more value on my family.
    I think the push for higher education has really devalued the vocation of motherhood and been a catalyst for the feminist movement. We should be very careful as mothers to remember that our first vocation in marriage is the procreation and education of our children.
    As a working mom....I am currently discerning leaving my job security to stay at home with my children. I feel slightly embarrassed to leave my white collar job to stay at home.
    I know that I should trust my husband in fulfilling his vocation and providing for my family and that my presence at home is invaluable. However, it is hard to shut off the worldly mindset I was raised in.

    This is not to put down working mothers.....I am one. My hope is that my daughters and sons will not struggle to with the need to chase the illusion of job security and fulfillment within their profession but will always put God first when choosing their vocations. Perhaps we should focus on teaching our sons to prepare to be sole income providers and prepare our daughters that although her career goals may be secondary to having a family.

    1. I see your point, but I don't think that girls should be told to think of career goals as secondary to family goals while they are still unmarried. Not all women get married. That's reality. Another reality is that all women, married or unmarried, have bills to pay. We might as well pay them by doing a job we enjoy.

      I'd be very nervous if people started telling their unmarried daughters, "Hey, don't focus on your career and education. After all, you'll just get married one day, after which point you will never ever be required to do paid work ever again." It's not reality. Husbands die. Husbands become disabled. Husbands leave (yes, even Catholic ones). Husbands sometimes don't even materialise.

      I think that mothers, even stay-at-home-mothers, should be well-educated. Young children learn how to speak their native languages correctly by hearing their mothers speak those languages correctly. Education really is part of the solution to avoiding grinding poverty, ignorance and disadvantage.

    2. AnonymousJuly 23, 2014

      I agree about education for girls....it is just that education and job performance should not come at the expense of fulfilling your primary vocation. As a married person your primary vocation is the education and procreation of children. I have struggled with the contraceptive mentality while using NFP because I was afraid of becoming pregnant and affecting my job performance.

      Feminism has fed us the lie that women can have it all and we really can't.

    3. Ok, Anonymous, I completely disagree.

      Women can have it all. That's not a lie, that's a fact of life: look at Northern/Western Europe, where part-time work is much more available to accommodate women in the workforce (and men, too, by the way!)

      Also, "procreation" is not the vocation of every single woman on earth. Some women choose to be childless, and some women are infertile. They are not any "less" women, or failing at their vocation: they just fulfill their vocation differently.

  18. AnonymousJuly 23, 2014

    What really bothers me is how hung up on college society is. This is why debt is such a huge problem amongst our generation. I mean many of my older friends who have school age children are sending their kids off to colleges to earn a theology or philosophy degree. That's one thing if your son is discerning a vocation to the priesthood but what exactly can a layperson do with a theology or philosophy degree? My husband's father did not go the traditional college route and instead learned a trade (a very high high skilled trade) and became a machinist which requires a lot of complicated math skills. From there he chose to earn a degree at an older age just because. His job didn't necessarily require one but you're right, it can make a person more desirable in the workforce. I think that college is for people who know what they want to do.

    Also I think it's highly offensive for someone to believe that only people who go to college can call themselves "educated." Educated does not always come with having a college degree and believing otherwise is arrogant. My MIL does not have a college degree and worked her way to the top working as a project manager for the state controllers office in state government. So do consider the little undereducated people when you write something like that.

    1. I believe theology degrees allow for teachers of theology, which allows for preaching the gospel and spreading our beautiful faith to the uncatechized. A pretty important job, methinks.

    2. (occasional reader without a blog here! I really enjoy your blog, Colleen)

      Humanities majors such as philosophy, theology, history, and English, more than most other majors, teach critical thinking skills. As has been shown time and time again, this is what employers want above anything else. They want employees who can think through complex problems, and communicate them effectively (which, again, is also something that is emphasized in humanities majors). See: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/nchems.pdf for example.
      On top of that, the original research humanities students are required to do (even as undergraduates) is attractive for many employers as well, because they are able to work their way through dense materials and condense, summarize, and analyze it. These are useful skills for many "office" jobs (not saying only office jobs are desirable - just saying, if one would want an office job, a humanities degree isn't a strange choice).

  19. Argh I commented a big long comment and it disappeared... This keeps happening to me lately! Anyway, agree agree agree!

  20. Sending my kids to college is honestly the least of my financial worries. Two of my siblings and I managed to get all our education for free via scholaships (including graduate degrees) I have a maser's degree and never had a single loan. Granted, we just went to public universities..I think that is harder when you are talking about Catholic universities as I think a full-tutution scholarships is harder to get at those schools.

    Anyway, there a lot of ways to get an education without necessarily going into a ton of debt. Community college, scholarships, aid, etc. And Obama actually is making it easier (I shudder to write that, I don't like him) but my husband went to law school and if he works 10 years in "public interest" making income-based payments for 10-years his loans are forgiven. There are "loan-forgiveness" programs for people who work in public-interest jobs (teachers, social workers, government, non-profit, etc.).

    And hey...I've "heard" that if you live in Steubenville, your kids can go there for the cost of the local community college. Maybe you guys should move out there. LOL

  21. You're my inspiration, Colleen! I get asked this question a lot!


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