Are we doing the right thing?

Let’s just say we have some poor relations.  The parents are about our age, but started having a large number of kids in high school.  They’re really not good with finances, though a lot better than they were a decade and a half ago.  There’s a long way to go.  They are GREAT parents and have great kids.  But in terms of money and career it hasn’t turned out so well (better than a lot of our other relatives, but they’re still below median family income for the US and struggle most months to pay their bills on time).  They live in a small rural town with few opportunities… even minimum wage jobs are scarce.

We especially like their oldest daughter (age 17).  She’s a reader, creative, artistic, and fantastic with her little sibs.  She’s also got good taste in anime.  Unfortunately she’s very math-phobic and it shows up in her grades.

She wants to work with kids when she grows up; her biggest ambition is to be a teacher.  The kind of special subject certification she wants only allows one  year at a community college before transferring to a state school.  We printed out the info on college she isn’t getting from her guidance counselors or parents, what classes she needs to take before she can even apply to a state school, got her books to study for the ACT and SAT if she wants (explaining that better grades and scores mean more money).  DH sat her down and answered a lot of questions that she had about college itself and college-going.  (Questions that from my position of privilege I’d known the answer to since I was 4 and sitting in on my mom’s classes when the baby sitter didn’t show up.)  We printed out BLS occupational information on unemployment in her discipline and salaries and so on so she could make an informed decision about her specific subject.

Last summer we paid for her to go to a subject specific week-long camp… She was so excited the half year leading up to it.  She went though an application application process similar to that for college.  She worked really hard on her application package and did a great job and got in.  She also got financial aid so we were only out $250 instead of $500.

On day 2 of the camp she begged to go home because she was homesick.

She also didn’t get into the main class she wanted.  She did get into two other classes she wanted but didn’t enjoy her third class enough to even remember what it was.

We asked if she wanted to go again this summer, the last summer before she graduates.  She said no.

We’re saving for the two oldest to go to college (just tuition– they’d still need to fund their own living expenses).  Should we be doing that?  Their aunt majored in education at the expensive flagship and ended up with 5 kids and working 3 part-time jobs with no benes that she could have done without the degree.  My MIL thinks it is foolish for us to spend this kind of money, and is worried about them dropping out like another cousin and wasting the degree.

Are we making a big mistake?  Would the oldest be better off without us doing this? We’re trying hard not to push her into a specific image, but we are pushing her in the direction she would need to go to do what she wants to do… is it too much?

The second, two years younger, doesn’t have anything specific in mind, so we were thinking we’d be able to hack 2 years community followed by 2 years in a state school if she wants to do that.  But maybe she’d be better off if she had to work for a while before getting any education.  She keeps getting into trouble about boys (nothing serious so far, but enough to get her grounded) and doesn’t pay much attention to her school work at all.  But both their grades go up whenever we let them know we’ve contributed to their 529s.

I don’t want to mold them into any specific form– but I do want them to have the kind of advantages their parents didn’t have… I don’t want them to be broke and pregnant in high school, or broke and working 80 hour weeks (or not able to find any job) still unable to pay the bills in their 30s.

How much influence do we have over kids that aren’t our own?  Should we?

Update:  Any of our academic readers want to weigh in on this one?

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53 Responses to “Are we doing the right thing?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I think if the kids want the help you should provide the mentoring. If they don’t well, see rule #14 in my today’s Babci post.

    I personally would have loved someone like you in my life, but I was driven to get out of poverty and would do whatever it took to get there. I can say that probably by the age of 16 I knew this. Let me know what you decide.

  2. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

    Well, I think true giving is giving with the expectation of getting nothing back. And I suppose that also means being without having any expectations of what they’ll do with that money (ie. stay in school, get decent grades, become a “success”).

    I went to University at 16 right out of high school, dropped out after a semester and went to work. Didn’t go back for 6 years (after I got pregnant with my oldest). I personally needed those 6 years to grow up, so I can understand kids who need to wait and mature. My parents didn’t influence me one way or the other, but my mom did say something when I told her I was going back that’s always stuck with me: “I knew you were too smart to take orders for too long from people who are dumber than you.” I think all kids that need some drive to go to school need that more menial job to give them some drive.

    Like you said, just having the education is no guarantee. Six out of eight of us went to university – two out of those six are using their degrees, the other four basically wasted their time and money. But at least it was their own money, not someone else’s.

    Like First Gen said, if they want it bad enough, money or the lack of it won’t be what makes them do it or not do it. It makes it easier, sure.

    I don’t know enough about education motivators for any kids but my own, but how about $X for every B and above they get?

  3. Everyday Tips Says:

    Well, I think providing guidance and mentoring the kids through the process is invaluable as they aren’t getting the guidance they need at home.

    I need to know a couple things first. Are there other family members that are going to be outraged by you paying the tuition for these kids (and not their kids)? Do the kids want to go to college right out of high school? What do the parents of the kids think of this plan? How much are you sacrificing yourself to put this plan in action?

    I would have died to have had someone helping me out like you are willing to do. But I hated my situation and paid for every dime of my education. Not everyone is that ‘ready’ right out of high school.

    Can you share a little more for me please? :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We only see them once or twice a year. Before the oldest got a boyfriend she was emailing from time to time and was very excited about becoming a professional *specific field* or a voice actor, but after getting older, she dropped that ambition and decided she wants to be a teacher. We have not told her about our plans, but we have been contributing $500 to $1000/year each into 529 plans for them for the past 4 years. They have lost money because their dad has them in an actively managed fund instead of the index option. (We try to make the dad match the funds with at least $15 (the minimum) so we can say their dad values this too but it is very difficult as they can’t pay their bills on time each month. When times are good they buy nicer *stuff* than we have. When times are bad they don’t pay their cable/cell/ etc. Times are currently bad.)

      It isn’t other family members’ business, but I imagine the rest of the family would have the same reaction the in-laws had… it’s a waste of our money, but it’s our money.

      There are no jobs in the town. The mom has been out of work for some time after losing her last minimum wage job. The dad has been trying to find a third job on top of his full time and part-time jobs, but has been unable. A recent high school graduate is going to have a difficult time finding work. We don’t know what they could do out of high school besides getting more school. A common response is to have babies and live off family, which is going to be harder to do because the family matriarch who helps enable that is in poor health. Two years ago the oldest was gung-ho to leave and start a career, now we don’t know.

      The parents don’t mind accepting money. Their philosophy is family helps you when you’re down, you help family when you’re doing better. (I think this is a philosophy that keeps them from wealth building because they’d rather spend on stuff than give away… but they’re learning, now they save up their tax money each month and don’t give it away.) The dad really wishes he’d had the opportunities DH had (his parents were also teen parents… they are sending their second family, the kids they had at the regular age when their first kids were 16 and 18, to colleges starting next year), and without this huge family he probably would have gone on to get a PhD instead of an associates degree. He doesn’t really fit in with the folks he works with but he would definitely fit in with a bunch of crazy professors or other professionals.

      As far as we know, we’re only sacrificing paying down our mortgage faster. That’s really about it unless DH leaves his job. Additionally, given the large family, their close ages, low income parents, no real assets, and the fact they will probably go to regional state schools rather than the flagship, they should get substantial financial aid towards tuition, so the max we would pay each year would be 10K per kid… it will probably be much less, especially if they spend some time at a CC first. It should be easier to get a minimum wage job in a college town to pay expenses than where they’re living now.

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        OK, I finally got a minute to come back and provide all my insight. :)

        I could be your relative in a way. I grew up without any money and the town I lived in focused on drinking, smoking and getting pregnant. Oh wait, and jail too. I would have died if someone would have helped me financially. More importantly though, I needed guidance. I had zero examples and I didn’t know what in the world I was doing. I filled out the financial aid forms, filled out apps for college and muddled my way through. I would suggest paying for a year of community college first, BUT I would become a lot more involved in the process. I am not saying having strings tied to the money. I am saying helping her with study habits and adapting to college. I got fantastic grades in high school with minimal effort. Michigan State was a huge adjustment for me because I thought I could blow off classes and not study and still 4.0. There is a lot more that is needed for these students than just money.

        Financially, go with where your heart is. But I think these kids will need a lot more than money to be successful.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We live far away and these aren’t our kids. How could we help with study habits? :|

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        I get that you can’t sit with them and do their homework, but you can email, text, talk on the phone, whatever. I just think having a mentor is just as valuable, if not even more so, than providing the money. Encouraging them to use office hours, find out about free tutoring, and other resources the school may provide.

        Heck you can even skype with them if that would help nowdays…

  4. Liz Says:

    I think what you’re doing is really great. But it sounds like there is a missing influential link, here: the kids’ parents. Perhaps something needs to go on to get the parents on board, at least to motivate the kids to choose valuable college-career paths. Otherwise, the kids (one of whom wasted such a valuable and expensive opportunity!) will wind up needing to take the long, hard road to realizing the value of education. And that’s not necessarily bad, but it’s certainly much harder to watch as an attentive, loving family member.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think she wasted the opportunity. The opportunity didn’t live up to her expectations, but she did stay the entire time. She’s a good kid and acutely aware that her parents are having money problems… she may be trying to save us $250, but I don’t know that. Her dad also doesn’t know why she doesn’t want to go again, other than the homesickness. The second daughter said she might want to go to something this summer, but she doesn’t know what.

  5. Linda Says:

    You’re not necessarily making a mistake, but this family member needs to find her own motivation to really take advantage of the help you are giving her. You can be role models, but you can’t make her want to go to college or pursue a career that requires a degree.

    Even if she came from a family privileged enough to send her to an expensive university and pick up the tab, she’d still need to find her own motivation to pursue a degree and career. There are plenty of “rich kids” who graduate university and become family dead beats.

    I’d suggest you just keep being models for her and keeping her updated about your own professional (and financial) goals and how you’re doing with them. Not in a preachy way, but just as a way of being conversational about what’s going on in your life. She’ll reach out to you for guidance when she’s ready…or she won’t.

    I offered to help my neice with her college costs, and I did do so when she took me up on the offer to buy her textbooks one term. I also offered to help her fill out her FAFSA and research scholarships, student aid options, and universities. She never took me up on that offer.

    At 23 she is still living at home, working full time in retail at a local mall, and has not yet completed an associates degree at community college. She does contribute to the household by cleaning the house, taking care of the pets, and providing supervision for her teenaged brother when her mother (my sister) has to travel for business. I’ve learned to just stay away from asking anything about my neice’s goals and what my sister is doing to encourage her daughter to become more independent. Those subjects are much too charged!

  6. MutantSupermodel Says:

    Eek sticky, tricky. Honestly part of me is thinking stay away but it IS family and I know how alluring that can be too. I think your money would be better spent invested and then you can donate a scholarship to the local high school system where passionate kids can and will compete for the money. Kids who do that are more likely to use the scholarship money to get the education they want I think. Then again, if they already know it exists that option wouldn’t be appropriate would it?
    I guess if you’ve already committed to doing this, then I’m with another poster who said that giving should be done without expectations on return. You’re giving to this tuition because you want these girls to take advantage of the opportunity that was not available to their parents. If you can’t freely give without those wants or expectations from them, maybe you should stop donating to their fund and just provide support and mentoring until you feel better about how eager they are about educating themselves. Like so many, I too dropped out of college to “grow up”. And I was the kind of kid who had it good– scholarships, honors college, dean’s list, etc. The scholarships weren’t ones I had to compete for, they were more like grants because of my grades and scores. Good luck with this one!

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    One thing that gets me… Why do working class kids have to prove themselves ready for college when middle class kids don’t?

    • MutantSupermodel Says:

      I don’t know why you got the idea working class kids do and middle class kids don’t. I think if a loved one is paying for your college tuition, you better show you’re ready for it regardless of where you come from. If my kids want to go to a college I have to pay for (i work at a great university they’ll be able to attend for free) they better give me a plan of some sort and good reasons why. And I’m pretty sure I’d qualify as middle class. But my sense is, generally, middle class kids have more pressure from parents to go STRAIGHT to college and working class kids probably have the opposite pressure– get a job to help. For me, I had a free ride thanks to the state, it was expected from me, so I went. And left. And came back. Many kids are probably ready for SOME college out of high school but not a full program. And class has nothing to do with that. It’s just maturity, goals, determination, etc. and I think that’s the type of thing you need to look at. Maybe look at it as a business investment. Wouldn’t you want to see a business plan from a business you were planning on investing in? Aren’t you in essence investing in these girls? Again, I don’t care what class they’re in, I care that YOU are giving THEM money for college tuition whether it’s because their parents are working class or because they’re parents are upper class but irresponsible with money doesn’t matter.

  8. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    As so often with me, I’m coming at this on a tangent. The homesickness at camp is what really struck me: this girl may or may not be ready for college, but it sounds like she’s not ready to be away from her comfort zone. She’s used to a small town where she knows everybody. If that were a small college town where her parents were professors, then she’d be okay in college there (and, of course, she probably would have more experience of the wider world than she actually does). But going away, even just an hour down the road, could be very hard on her. In general, I agree about living up to your commitments as far as the money goes; but it sounds like it might be even more help to have her visit you, or some other family member or friends (familiar people, in other words), not too far from home, for just a couple of days at at time (at first), perhaps with the younger sibling or a good friend from home, to provide support in exploring new places. I have niblings who, though better provided for materially and in parental expectations, are similarly disinclined to leave their home area and friends, and if they don’t get over that, it will limit their career choices. Many kids need to be prepared—educated—to travel, learn how to respond to new places, weather, food, etc. It is hard. It’s analogous, I think, to little kids needing a lot of exposure to new foods before they learn to like new flavors.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 agrees with you so hard. I forsee a future where the kid goes to school and crashes and burns in the first semester. But you want to hold out hope, ya know? Again, only #1 knows the people personally but #2 has seen literally thousands of freshpeeps and this one doesn’t sound promising. Oh dear. I sound so gloomy. Um…. kittens?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s a really good point and now I’m wishing we’d spent some money for the two oldest to visit when we were living someplace more exciting.

        She was only 16 at summer camp, and it did turn out fine days 3-5 and she enjoyed hanging out with the other campers at the end. But she doesn’t want to go back again this summer, and we don’t know why. Her step mom (who really raised her after their biological mother abandoned them) was having some major health problems around then too and I remember when my mom had cancer that destroyed my summer abroad in college.

        We live far away in another state in another part of the country and plane tickets are around $500 a pop… it’s really difficult justifying that when the $500 could be used for so many other things. (The last time I thought about them visiting and priced out tickets, I just put the additional money in their 529s.) And there’s not much to do around here in any case.

        With her specific subject interest, she can do one year of gen eds at her local community college before transferring.

  9. Squirrelers Says:

    I think you’re being generous, which by itself is a great thing. Good for you, as you guys are willing to make sacrifices for these children that – though they’re family – are not your own. Very generous.

    Now, I do think that it’s fair to have some expectations here. That’s different from trying to control, which it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to do, by the way. It seems like you just want them to lead a responsible life and have advantages that their parents didn’t have. That’s cool. But you’re not being selfish for having some expecations, especially since you’re not trying to steer them in one specific way, and you’re not exactly controlling them.

  10. HennaHonu Says:

    I am currently a PhD student and have wanted to do science since high school. My mom didn’t have a lot of money, so my aunt offered a lot of help. She did similar things. She bought me a car and gave me gas and insurance money so I didn’t have to get a job and could take AP classes (I had a single parent, so I couldn’t get to activities/study groups/etc.). She gave me money when I got good grades. She (and my mom) encouraged me to go to college and said it was better to go and get some loans than not go and try to save up for it. I am really grateful to my Aunt and mother for their support (both financial and emotional). I could not have gotten to college without them. They trained me very well on managing money and when I over-drafted the bank account it was the worst day of my life. Because of that, I got nearly a full ride to undergrad (about $10k in loans) and got paid internships during the summers and was paid as a lab assistant during the semesters.

    In addition, my boyfriend was also raised by a single mother. She encouraged him to go to college, but could not offer any financial help. His aunt taught him about money and also offered financial assistance (though never a 529). He did get over a full ride (he got a check for living expenses every semester) but was not careful with his money. He didn’t have any savings at the end of college (unlike me – I paid off my unsubsidized loans the week I graduated). However, he went to school for engineering and after a 1.5 year delay (stupid economy) got a $50k a year job. During that 1.5 years he learned the importance of budgeting and is much better with his money now.

    Finally, a good friend of mine from high school was a foster child. Her foster family did not give her any support for college and really emphasized money. I tried to get her to go to college and tried to get her to see that some education debt can be okay. With my help, she got into a great state school with a good program in what she wanted to do. But, she chickened out. And only a year later really regretted her decision. She struggles working full time and trying to save up for community college classes now and then. She dreams of getting married and having babies so she doesn’t have to worry about making money any more. If she had even a little financial help or emotional help from an adult, I don’t doubt that after a hard 1st semester with homesickness, she would have stuck with it and graduated. But instead, she is intellectually bored at work, struggles to pay her bills every month, and doesn’t think she’ll ever do more with her life than become a parent if she can find herself a well-to-do husband.

    I think it’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing. However, I think if you have responsibility attached to your money it will actually be better for your nieces. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am now without the financial support of my aunt, and I know my mom is thankful for it.

  11. Crystal @ BFS Says:

    I’d offer to help but explain up front what stipulations the money comes with. The biggest problems I usually see with helping kids throug college is that expectations are just implied instead of stated outright – that just isn’t fair for anybody including you. :-) Good luck! I think your generosity is fantastic!

  12. bogart Says:

    Oh, difficult stuff.

    I grew up in a university town and everyone I knew went to college, myself included. It’s simply what was done. I went straight from college into graduate school, finished my Ph.D., and went into academia … 6 years in professorial roles (3 visiting, 3 tenure-track) before I left of my own free will to take a (good) staff job at a (good) university in order to be able to live with my husband in … the town where I’d grown up (oh, and gone to graduate school at the institution where he was working). Now that I’m a mom there’s really nothing you could offer me that would tear me away from my own mom and the role she has in her grandson’s (my son’s) life. (And I’m also really fortunate (my abandonment of the professorial life notwithstanding) to live somewhere that’s economically pretty well situated and in/to which, in fact, a bunch of my more extended family either are located (two sets of my mother’s generation’s cousins and all their kids and grandkids) or have migrated (one of my generation’s cousins plus spouse, inlaws, and kids) for some combination of educational and professional opportunities.)

    My point? I think academics as a group grossly undervalue family / hometown, and that as a group we (you?) probably self-select as people willing to stretch and break family ties (sometimes for good reasons, and I’m certainly not saying they should never be broken nor am I suggesting people should never be willing to relocate) and move to … anywhere. While I’m certainly not saying that this is what you’re calling on your niece to do (in any major sense), I do suspect from the little reading I’ve done of your blog that each of you falls on the end of the continuum of human experience/values that says one moves (relocates) for career and educational opportunities at the expense of other values, like geographic proximity to family and hometown.

    Which is my complicated way of saying that while I think what you are offering is valuable, it also comes at what may be a considerable cost. Some of that may simply be unavoidable, but I wonder if there are ways to minimize it. Might either girl come stay with you for one or more semesters while going to school? Could one of them delay going to school so that they could attend together?

    Honestly I’d mostly encourage you to involve them in the decision-making process, including letting them know what you’re willing to assist with and finding out what their concerns are (talking with them, not just about them) and also providing flexibility — allowing them to work, travel, or otherwise explore / grow up before pursuing their educations at your expense.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, the problem is that the town is dying. The industries have left one by one. The remaining factory in town is avoiding unions by only hiring contract labor… so no more benefits. The only jobs are in education and nursing. The dad in the family now commutes an hour because his company got shut down and he luckily got hired by another company right away at the same pay but fewer benefits (effectively a paycut). If something happens to this new job, he will have to relocate to the nearest city, which is ~2 hours away. For various financial reasons too long to go into they cannot relocate closer to his job now.

      She wants to be a teacher… she could move back. But she has to get a college degree before she can do that. Community college is a 30 min drive. Nearest state college is ~2 hours away. There’s a private college an hour away, but we can’t afford that. The state college she was most interested in because it’s the best in her subject area (but may have changed her mind about since camp) is a few hours away.

      We live in another state… out of state tuition is much more than we can afford, and the schools out here are not as good as the schools in the midwest despite being more expensive.

      DH did sit down with the oldest and outlined everything (not saying that we’ll pay 100% tuition, but explaining about subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans and 529s etc. and that we would help out without going into detail). There is a tremendous amount of lack of knowledge about the entire process, or even what college is. But the oldest has broken a family record for longest time alive without getting pregnant… she’s 17. We know she wants to be a teacher because she’s told us that’s what she wants to do, and that’s still what she wanted to do at Thanksgiving when we visited.

      I just don’t see how they’re going to be able to work with no jobs in town. If getting homesick is the only thing preventing her from going away to school, traveling isn’t going to help. The exploration folks do in the town is generally becoming a parent, getting married, getting divorced etc. (There’s also a meth business and some other unsavory stuff, but she’s on the straight-and-narrow side of the family.) All of DH’s friends from high school had gotten married and divorced at least once, sometimes twice, before he graduated from college.

      • bogart Says:

        Right, right, I understand the problems.

        Again … can you sit down with her (probably literally, so whenever you next see her) and outline what you’re willing to do (or can do)?

        There’s something she wants (a degree that will let her be a teacher); there are obstacles in the way, and there are also resources available. Your resources aren’t the only ones … she can make a decision about what she is or isn’t willing to do about taking out loans, for example, as you mention.

        I find it interesting that you seem to be assuming/implying she won’t qualify for financial aid? If the 529 is one you set up for her, could you reassign it to someone else whose education you want to support (perhaps, eventually) and help her with other resources, so that the 529 doesn’t affect her eligibility for aid? Might she qualify for merit aid, math phobia and all? Might she consider working in a program that would pay off her loans once she graduates (Teach for America?)?

        Though I’d add that even if she does want to be a teacher, ideally (IMO) when she gets to college she’ll be exposed to new stuff and may re-evaluate her options. When I was teaching the students who worried me most were the ones who knew what they wanted to major in when they arrived on campus.

        My DH’s entire family was similarly situated in the midwest, and over 3 decades 4/6 of his siblings have left; all of those other 3 (+ him makes 4) now live, funnily enough, within ~3 hours of us (he is the only one with a college degree, and one of the two still in the midwest does have a blue collar union job and could not possibly afford to move here, to a non-union area, and do similar work … it would be a ~67% pay cut). So, again, I’m not saying people “shouldn’t” relocate, nor that even those who might be reluctant to do so or have limited opportunities to do so, won’t over time find ways to migrate to new and more opportune areas (Can an area be opportune? But you know what I mean.). But I’m just trying to think through how given the situation you describe and in a short time frame, you can help provide more options.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have to decide for sure what we’re willing to do before outlining the entire thing. We cannot make promises to her unless we are going to keep them. Right now the plan is to pay her tuition directly, then her sister’s after that. She has a year and a half before she goes. We are also both up for tenure in the next two years. We have sat down with her twice in the past year and a half figuring out what she wants and what her plans and dreams are. We keep in regular communication with her dad. We have talked about loan options and their pros and cons as well as heuristics about how much to take out, along with BLS figures on average salaries for different professions. But still, she’s a teenager with no way to have experienced what these large sums of money actually mean or what additional schooling entails.

        I’m assuming she *will* qualify for financial aid and quite a lot of it. She won’t qualify for merit aid with her current GPA. It is very unlikely she will qualify for Teach for America unless somehow her math phobia gets fixed (which I would do myself, and her stepmom’s if I lived in town because fixing math phobia is one of my big hobbies, but it’s not something I can do over the course of an hour during vacation once or twice a year). It is more difficult to get into TFA than into most graduate schools. (And you don’t get to choose where you live.) If she changes her mind on what she wants to do, more power to her. We don’t care. We just want to provide an opportunity.

      • bogart Says:

        Oh, and I’m not sure I buy the idea that if homesickness is the problem, traveling won’t help. I’m not really presenting it as a solution; though I do think maturity and experience might help, however she passes the time involved in getting those, I mostly just intended in my comment to suggest things she might do that would hold value but that didn’t involve going immediately to college. But traveling and enjoying it might indeed help one get over homesickness, might it not (I am no expert here — my current stick-in-the-mud status notwithstanding I got out of my parents’ home as early as I could and did not look back for a long time. And I traveled a lot and come from a family replete with travelers, the sort that would hardly blink at a college-bound kid spending a gap year traversing the globe.)? Imagine if she went somewhere with a friend, experienced new things/places and enjoyed them. Or came to live with you for a year and worked, making new friends and learning about new things and new places and getting to know you better? Or (as one of my stepkids did after finishing college at a nearby state school), moved many states away and connected with activists passionate about a cause she believed in (again, I am really *not* presenting that as the solution in this case … just offering an example of a time when a move on the part of someone previously relatively “stable” in terms of both geography and friendships really did lead to a big change in that person’s life, perspective, and opportunities)?

      • bogart Says:

        Sure, sure, makes sense. Well, here is my one other rule of thumb for prospective college kids. Figure out what you want (e.g. a teaching degree, to live near family, whatever). Then identify ways you might be able to get it (e.g. “go to expensive private liberal arts college in town one over from Uncle Bob,” “Go to community college and then to state school and deal with long drives in order to be able to live at home,” etc.). Then take the necessary steps to qualify for those options (I don’t mean earning the grades though obviously that’s part of it, I mean apply to the schools and fill out the FAFSA). Then get the acceptances and the rejections and the financial aid offers. Then evaluate what your alternatives really are and how you can achieve them.

        So it seems to me it would be reasonable to encourage her to do this (pick schools she’d attend, apply to them), along with some frank discussions about how you are willing to help, but not an infinite amount, and which options are real for her will be in part a function of what financial aid packages she gets offered … that this is somewhat hard to predict (ditto admissions) … but is part of the process, demands a thick skin, etc., etc. (reasonably easy, I think, if you are, say, me, and used to how universities work, and probably more difficult if you are not). And then you have really to sit down with her once she has offers in hand and figure out the pros & cons of each and help her decide what to pick (including providing more concrete information about how, and how much, you can help). Certainly not foolproof, but the best I can suggest based on what I know.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yes, we were planning on doing that. (DH even told her she needs to apply to at least 3 state schools– one where she is better than their average incoming student, one that is a stretch, and one where she’s about average. He also showed her how to find that information for the school that specializes in her preferred field. She also knows what classes she’ll need to take in high school and that for her specialty she can only do one community college year, not the standard two, and that one year is not recommended.) We’re doing our best at filling in for the absent guidance counselor.

  13. Lindy Mint Says:

    This is a good discussion. I go back and forth. I don’t think there is anything wrong with contributing to their college fund. Especially since you can afford it. Sure, you could be paying off your mortgage a littler sooner, but would that affect your lives more positively than a college fund would theirs? Probably not.

    I like Squirrelers’ comment that you can’t control them. If I were in your situation, I would have major control issues. But I don’t think that would benefit them. The best thing you can do is give them the best guidance you can, and inform them about the ways of the world. Most 18 year-olds aren’t ready to face the realities of the world. I know I wasn’t. Helping them see those realities in a gentle way would help put them on the right path.

    And if they are fully aware of what an important gift this is, they’ll take it seriously.

  14. Rumpus Says:

    It has been instilled in me that college’s raison d’être is enabling one to get a job that pays better than minimum wage. (I think this contributes to my cognitive dissonance about how professor = teacher + researcher.) From that standpoint, yes, provide her with an opportunity, because it doesn’t sound like she’s going to get one from anywhere else. At least she’ll have a chance to escape the quagmire of a small town with no responsible role models (I know that situation…and maybe she wants to live there forever, or maybe some part of her wouldn’t mind trying another town for at least a couple years). She may decide not to attend college, or flub freshman year because she can’t handle being away from home, but in my limited experience putting strings on education money is more likely to hurt the chances of someone doing well in school. And “teaching her to fish” is going to be better than listening to all the horror stories about her various money-related problems in the future.

    I tell my students, “Figuring out what you want to do is the hard part.” It’s made even harder when your whole life is limited to a small town and you don’t really know what options exist. I agree with the other posters that there are other life paths, but who is going to tell her that college is a valid path if you don’t?

  15. frugalscholar Says:

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, so I may make points that have already been made. Do your nieces see your help as criticism of the parents? Do the parents see it that way? If so, that may be complicating things.

    Is the help perceived as pressure?

    I know many people who were helped by caring relatives. In all cases, the kids were extremely motivated, very hard workers. Those came BEFORE the financial help.

    No answer from me, I’m afraid.

  16. Invest It Wisely Says:

    IMO if they want to go down that life path and if they want their help, then it can be a good thing. Are the parents on board, too? College isn’t for everyone, though.

    Lots of people do go through college just to coast through, when there might have been other alternatives that may have worked out better for them. There are lots of paths where they can do better than minimum wage.

    I would say, if they want to go down the college path and appreciate your help, then why not. If you’re letting them know what it’s like and informing them of the options, then that’s already a big help. I would just want to be sure that they want to go to college and that it will really be beneficial for them before spending that kind of money…

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  19. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Still taking comments!

  20. Tiffany Says:

    hmm..this is an interesting question. I understand your position. I have two younger half-brothers who live in a small town (with my mom), with no career opportunities, and limited education. My fiancee and I talk all the time about ways to possibly steer them towards college, or at least a trade. It’s a difficult thing when you are not the primary influence. Personally, my mother sees no problem living on minimum wage and doesn’t seem to care if my brothers follow in her living week-to-week footsteps. I want more for them…so I understand your feelings.

    I think that your offer to help wth college tuition is amazing. I do have a couple of questions…Is this offer only valid now? The kids could take a year or two to work, and then decide that they’re ready to explore their college options.

    What does your niece want? Has she expressed a desire to attend college now that it is becoming a reality? If so, I would say to continue to discuss this with her, help her complete the application process (including paying the application fees), and then let her decide when the results are in (with no pressure either way).

    There are so many options, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing right now. She could go part time, or attend the community college for a year to see how she likes advanced education.

    Personally, my college education was paid for and it was expected that I go. I didn’t want to go when I was 18. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was grounded until I completed my college applications (seriously), and my dad signed my name on the acceptance letter for my state school. Those four years were pretty much a waste for me. I recently returned to school to get a second degree and graduated in the top 5 of my class and am now in a profession I love. I think that if my family had listened to me, they would have saved a ton of money, and I would have learned a lot sooner what I wanted to do.

    I would just give them options. Don’t make it “now or never” or “this way or no way”.

    Just my .02.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The oldest wants to be a K-12 teacher, but in a specific subject field where only one year of community college transfers in (at least at the state schools in our state). The second doesn’t know what she wants to do yet; from what we hear her main interests are boys. We’re definitely not forcing them to do anything… I don’t think we could even if we wanted to!

  21. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma Says:

    While I get that you feel that college is a time for making mistakes, I also feel you need to be mature enough for college before you start. I wasn’t and I dropped out after 5 years with no degree and a low GPA. When I did go back, 5 years later, I was ready and driven and got all A’s, graduating with a B- GPA.
    Some kids are ready as soon as high school ends, but I bet most aren’t. Even my roommate, who is currently a senior with a 3.5 GPA admits that he didn’t start taking school seriously until his sophomore year. He started college initially because his parents were paying for him to go and he was expected.

    My advice if you really want to help your niece: have her move in with you for a year; there may be better opportunity for her finding a job where you live. If not, then give her some part-time work for a hundred or so dollars per month. Just something to let her have a couple dollars in her pocket to spend or save as she sees fit. After a year, an interest in going to school should have built into a burning desire, which is a much better indication of success

  22. Ben There Says:

    My parents didn’t have anything saved for me to go to college. They paid $5,000 of my first-year’s tuition bill. The rest was student loans and grants. What you have to understand is that the FAFSA determines how much aid you get, and it gives more aid to children of lower-income households. If her parents don’t have the income to help her through college, there may be additional aid available through the government of the college she chooses to go to. Paying all her tuition is a HUGE sum of money… what about retiring early instead?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The regional state universities are only ~10K/year without aid. Even if they don’t get aid and choose to go to university directly instead of starting at a community college, 80K is really not going to be enough for us to retire early. (Not denigrating 80K– that’s more than DH’s annual salary, but we think it would do more good here than towards our financial independence.) I am expecting them to get aid, and possibly to take out subsidized loans for room and board. Even if #1 doesn’t get a ton of aid, #2-N should once #1 is in school. So presumably we won’t be footing as much money as it seems.

      Pell grants are small compared to the cost of tuition, and the state is not in very good shape and has not been able to be as generous as it had been in better times. They’re not straight-A student math whizzes or athletic or musical geniuses, so the likelihood of a full ride from a private school is very small.

      The parents do not have $5K. They don’t have anything saved up or any home equity. They cannot pay their monthly bills on time. What is a small sacrifice for us is an impossibility for them and a seemingly infinite amount of student debt for someone whose potential starting salary is in the 30s. We’re trying to make this possible and to lessen the burden in case things don’t work out perfectly with completion or employment.

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  26. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I commented on your most recent post and then read this post. There is a way for a donor to give a student money by donating it to the school but designating which student gets the money. It is now almost 4 am, and I am fuzzy with thinking. But, this can be done somehow. And, there is a benefit to you which I will never remember….taxes? Check this out, maybe? As far as $500 for an airplane ticket, it might be a wise investment to acclimate her to a university situation/setting, being able to talk with two academics, to walk around the campus, and be assured she will be able to go home in several weeks, not a summer or a year later. Don’t plane tickets go on sale?

    It seems to me that if the first child never leaves home, the second might not either.

    If you want to help this girl, it is the right thing to do. You do deserve some accountability from her. Maybe a scheduled once-each-week chat about successes, problems, or just to say hello would not be out of order. That way, you could head off any problems that are brewing.

    I would have died of joy if anyone helped me with college right out of high school. I went but with no support. I did win a partial scholarship, but back then the counselors were not concerned about how that children without hope could attend. The cheerleaders and football players college attendance were their top priority. Bitter? Me?


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