Fonticulus Fides

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Okay, this story has me a bit miffed. The gist of it is, a student gets accepted to two prestigious universities, one of which offers a better financial aid package than the other. Her parents are divorced. Her mom agrees that she should go to the school she likes best, which happens to be the one that offers the lesser financial aid package. Her dad wants her to go to the cheaper of the two options. It goes to court, and the dad is ordered to pay double what he wants to pay, so his daughter can go to the school she wants to go to. The difference between his share for the cheaper school and the desired school is $3,000 per year.

First of all, I don't think parents are necessarily obligated to pay for a child's college tuition, if only because the children have usually become adults by the time college is an option, and they ought to be responsible for the costs they incur at that point. Helping a child pay for college is a nice thing to do, but not everybody can afford it. I paid my own way to college (and it wasn't cheap). My husband and I together paid for him to finish his college education, and we're still paying back the loans he took out before we were married, when he was paying for it by himself. Right now, we have one savings account earmarked for college, but it only has about $1,000 in it and it's been a long time since we had any extra to put into it. I don't think it's going to go very far divided three ways (and who knows if we'll have to split it up even more than that?). My kids are very likely going to have to do what I did when I chose to go to college -- get scholarships, work before and during college, scrimp on everything and try to take as few loans as possible. But we'll be as supportive as we can be, financially or otherwise.

However, if parents have said they are willing to help with college, then I don't think they should dictate which school the child chooses. Every student is different, with different needs. I assume this bright young woman who had two prestigious schools to choose from had good reason for choosing one or the other. And by that I don't mean, "My boyfriend is going there," but "They have a better curriculum for my chosen major," or "They have a better professor-student ratio," or something like that. I think it would be okay for the dad to place conditions on the child as far as maintaining a specific GPA, contributing her own money via a job on or off campus, etc., but I don't think he should be dictating the choice of school based solely on financial issues.

Also, I don't think any parent should be forced to give more than they can actually afford -- I don't know if the court system had taken the fellow's income into account, but they should have. Now in this case, we are talking an extra $250 a month. I couldn't scrape that together myself right now, and I don't know if this guy can or can't. If he can do it, I don't know what he's complaining about. If he can't, how can the courts order him to do it?

I know parents can be unreasonable in their expectations regarding college education. About a year and a half ago, I taught one class at the local university as an adjunct professor, and I ran into this with one particular student. He was a great kid but extremely unmotivated -- at 23 he was still a junior and he openly admitted to me that he didn't want to learn the material in the class, he was just there because it was required for his major. By semester's end, I couldn't pass the kid -- he just hadn't learned enough to earn the points he needed.

He and I had a long talk about it, and when I had a better understanding of his career goals, I suggested a nearby trade school. I had good reason to do so -- in his particular career of choice, the local industry actually preferred the two-year trade school degree to the four-year university degree, because the trade school students had a more focussed, comprehensive education that made them better employees right from the start. I told him -- truthfully -- he would be better trained and have a better chance at starting his career if he switched to the trade school...which, by the way, is about the same cost as the state university.

Initially, he thanked me for the advice, and I thought he'd be transferring. But his parents blew a gasket at the whole idea. The mother called me personally to complain that I had suggested such a thing. I explained the industry preference for the trade school, but she couldn't believe that I could be right about it, despite the fact that I have connections to the industry and she doesn't. The father went to the chairman of the department to complain and threatened to go to the dean. The next thing I knew, this student's non-passing grade was overruled (even though he had not demonstrated that he deserved to pass the course) and he was able to proceed with his studies at the university. He graduated last May...with a fairly worthless degree that he neither wanted nor earned, and which will not bode well for him in the job market.

Meanwhile, I've not been invited back to teach at that school, and honestly, I'm not holding my breath that the phone will ever ring. Anyway, I'm not sure I want to teach for a university that is willing to pass students who haven't learned the material, just because their mommies and daddies make a stink. I worked too hard for my own college education to put up with that.



Post a Comment

<< Home