What does it take to go to college: An update on DH’s relatives

One of the things known by economists is that a lot of people have some college, but only ~30% of people in the US have an actual college degree from a four year school.  People go to college or start college or take classes at the local community college.  Most don’t finish a full four years.  Many don’t finish any sort of terminal degree (like an associates or vocational degree).  There’s some controversy in economics right now about whether starting and not finishing is worse than not starting at all– the answer seems to be complicated.  Some college does increase earnings even if there’s not a degree… probably causally, but not as much as finishing, and the disruption that going to school can do to finances in terms of loans and earnings potential in terms of not working is real.  It’s hard to say if it’s worth it.

DH has a relative with 5 kids.  We have tried to get all 5 to get a degree.

The oldest dropped out after having a baby a year and a half into a two year degree.

The second, who was the only one who was state flagship eligible (close to a 4.0, high SAT scores, a full year of dual credit from the high school under her belt) got pregnant at 17 and again at 19 and college was out.  She’s currently married, living in another state, and the family breadwinner (and had baby #3 a couple weeks ago).

The third is legally blind and has not started any education yet at 21, though this year his friends have been taking the train with him to places with public transportation and it’s figuratively opening his eyes to worlds where he doesn’t have to be driven everywhere, which is helping with his depression.  We still have some hope that he’ll go to college.  He has high grades and reasonable SAT scores — maybe not flagship eligible (though with an essay he might be) but should get into any of the regional schools without having to write an essay.

The fourth is in the middle of her second year at community college.  Her SAT score was too low to be able to go to their closest state schools– she just needed 10 more points to make their minimum cutoff.  There was a kerfuffle with one of her required math classes last semester and the school gave everyone their money back and struck the class from their transcripts, but now she’s behind on credit hours.  We asked about transferring to a 4-year school as had been her initial plan, but she says she wants to do a sketchy sounding program at a private school that would enable her to get all of her classes at the local community college but call it a four year degree from their school.  She has some friends who did this 10 years ago and are teachers at the local elementary.  I wonder how much this will cost compared to finishing at a state school.  (Her father wonders if this program still exists.)

DH’s relative had told us a couple years ago that it wasn’t worth trying to do anything with the fifth.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to even graduate high school and ran with a bad crowd and was flirting with getting in trouble with the law.  But a couple months ago he went to a presentation at school that clearly laid out how much people without high school diplomas make compared to those with and to those with bachelors degrees.  He decided then and there that he was going to be staying in school.  DH and I naturally pounced on this.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what his GPA is– he thinks somewhere in the Bs since he gets mostly As and Bs on his report cards (but who knows), and his SAT score is pretty low.  Fortunately for him, one of the state schools nearby no longer requires the SAT and if he does have the GPA he thinks he has, he should get in.

So this break, we dragged him over to our in-law’s house and pulled out my laptop and sat there while he applied to the two closest 4-year colleges.  Then we paid for his applications.  He talked about how he decided on a business major because everyone said engineering was too hard but there are still jobs in business.  He talked about the dorms.  He seemed excited and to have done a lot of research about the school closest to them.  We talked a little about the second closest school as well.  Then we printed off the checklist for what he needs to do with his counselor after school gets back in session to complete his application in time to be eligible for financial aid.  (We will be sure to check on that with his dad as well.)

It’s especially important for him to go to one of these schools instead of the local CC like his siblings because he’s been being preyed on by a married woman more than 10 years older than him.  There has been some drama there and the police somewhat got involved but won’t prosecute etc.  But removing him from the situation will be a good thing.  We pretended we knew nothing about this situation and just focused on the $$ and jobs and learning etc.

I hope he gets in.  I hope he completes a degree.  I hope he drags his brother to school with him.

I don’t know if going to a 4 year school is better than starting at a 2-year in terms of completing (there’s a lot of selection into who does that so the correlation is that it’s better but we don’t really know).  I know his siblings have gotten horrible homesickness when they’ve been away from home even for a week (the second is the only one who has moved out of the house!).  And he didn’t want to apply to any of the farther away schools, even though we’re told that he’s been threatening to move out once he turns 18.  I hope he pays attention to his schoolwork and doesn’t have to drop out.  I hope that the kid his dad thought least likely to start a four year degree finishes one (not first– I’m still hoping for kid #4 to complete and she has a 2 year start on him).

But other than paying for it and these periodic nudges, I’m not sure there’s much we can do.  As my MIL reminded us, they’re not our kids.  We can only do so much.

10 Responses to “What does it take to go to college: An update on DH’s relatives”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    This may be weird and overstepping, but based on the two eldest siblings, it may also be worth it to talk with them about contraception and the benefits of delaying children. Boys can also waylay their college plans if they accidentally get their girlfriend pregnant (“I have to go get a job now to support my child, etc.”).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve only seen or talked to one of the kids in person in the past 5 or so years and that’s because we had him over to my in-laws to fill out college applications over Christmas break. The midwestern state does have mandatory sex ed every 2 years.

  2. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    What is your motivation for taking on such enormous responsibility for the decision making of someone else’s children?

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I have… a bunch of family just like this. Though one of the cousins has actually gone back to school to become some kind of medical technician (good for her!) and is now engaged to a pharmacist whose family is extremely skeptical (they are black; she is white and also Jewish). I wish all our relatives the best! I hope they all get enough schooling to have a good income and a pleasant life.

  4. rose Says:

    Thank you for sharing and for caring enough to try supporting the efforts of these young people in improving their financial futures and expanding their understanding of the world around them.

  5. Leigh Says:

    I hope he gets in to one of these schools and that it goes well for him! You guys are awesome for trying to help with this.

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I hope they choose to make the most of the opportunities you’re helping them reach and more than one of them completes a degree that helps them.

  7. undine Says:

    Here to say how much I admire you for what you’re doing–not only the monetary support, which is considerable, but in terms of encouragement and showing them how it’s done. There are a lot of moving parts to getting an education, and none of it is intuitive. Even if they don’t all finish, at least they know it is there.


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