Let nearly grownup daughter decide college costs, and how to pay

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Nearly grownup daughter deserves financial flexibility

State College: We saved up enough money for our daughter to go to a public college — about $12,500 per year. Daughter is smart and found B's easy, but we told her if she really tried, she could get A's and a scholarship at a private college.

She worked hard but didn't fanatically devote herself to good grades, and only got scholarships enough to bring the cost to about twice what we said we'd pay. If we really wanted, we could arrange for her to go to one of these private colleges (with debt, extra jobs, etc.).

But I don't want to — she did what she did and got what she got. She could also get loans, but I don't like that idea. How do I explain this, without it sounding like a punishment?

I want her to get a good education, but we are supposed to let teens have natural consequences, right? I feel like I backed myself into a corner by trying to motivate her.

Carolyn: Wait a second. It's not as if private colleges are Good while public colleges are Bad (or even Mediocre). What you all want here is for your daughter to get the best education available, for her, on financial terms that won't bankrupt or exhaust you.

And, your daughter may be under 18 still, or at least a dependent in a very real sense even if she is 18 — but she's also on the cusp of adulthood.

Is it really for you to decide unilaterally that she can't take out loans for a private college, if the school she wants most happens to be private?

And, too, did her grades fall 50 percent short of truly impressive, or was the scholarship pool more competitive than you could have predicted when you laid down your motivational law? It's hardly a 1-to-1 correlation, A's to bucks.

All these introduce gray areas into the college tuition calculation. If you disagree, and see it as a case for black-and-white consequences, then that's your parental prerogative.

But if there's a college above all others where you think she'd really thrive, and that school happens to be private, then educate her on debt, and let her decide whether she wants to borrow her way through Private U. — or she wants to avoid debt and go public. You can even sweeten the deal for the college of her choice by paying, say, 10 percent or 20 percent more than you said you would.

That's because there's no "corner" here except in your mind.

If your daughter were a toddler, then you might have a moral obligation and parental responsibility to hold the line on age-appropriate consequences. But your daughter is almost fully raised by now — if you change your mind a little bit, it's not going to spoil her beyond redemption.

Do what serves your daughter best.

If that involves a slight revision on what you originally intended, then call it a reward for bringing up her grades — or, heck, a reward for not becoming "fanatical about her grades"; what you see as your daughter's falling short, others might see as her keeping things in perspective.

If nothing else, don't be afraid to teach your daughter a lesson in judicious flexibility — precious knowledge indeed.

Let nearly grownup daughter decide college costs, and how to pay 05/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 22, 2010 1:16am]

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