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.

An unexpectedly high bill

The other week DH’s relative called DH at 10pm on a weeknight in a bit of a panic because kid #4 had signed up for community college next semester unbeknownst to him (she’s graduating a semester early and we are impressed with her initiative!) and the bill was due. Was our offer to pay it still valid? DH said sure, no problem, and we went back to sleep.

The bill turned out to be for $1,800!

So we said, we can pay this, BUT we think it’s really unlikely that you actually have to pay this much given that daughter #1 was free and #2 was something like $300/semester after financial aid. (This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.)

Looking closer, it appeared that financial aid had not been included in the bill, even though they had done the FAFSA and everything else. Kid #4 also said two of her friends had gotten similarly scary bills. So something was messed up. (Also it turned out the deadline posted on the bill was a month earlier than the actual deadline!)

After several days of phone tag, DH’s relative finally got someone on the phone, but they said that they couldn’t talk financial aid with him, only with his daughter, even though she’s 17 and still a minor. She needed to come into the office to sign a bunch of forms.

So she went into the office, and instead of giving her forms, they emailed her forms. But they don’t have a printer, so she had to go back to the office (but the office’s printer cuts off the bottom of every page…). There was a lot more back and forth and in the end, the relative and his daughter both went into the office together. And a month later, everything got sorted out. All we have to pay for is books. Whew.

Our hope is that this daughter will get her SAT score up at least 10 points so she’s state school eligible and then go to a 4 year school (neither of her sisters finished their associates degrees because they dropped out after having babies and the oldest son didn’t start because he couldn’t drive himself… our hope is that maybe the 4-year college environment will be more appealing than dropping out… but we have learned we can only do so much nudging and we never truly know what the right thing to do is).  She’s interested in an education degree, but might change her mind.

So… I guess the moral is … if you get a bill that is way larger than expected, chances are something went wrong?

Updates of the life variety

We’re still not ready to get back to regular posting– ask the grumpies will have to wait at least another week to get back on the schedule.  Here’s a few life updates while you wait for our wisdom to return.

  • My friend with secondary infertility who has been trying to get and stay pregnant for more than 2 years and many many IVF cycles has a pregnancy that has been sticking so far.
  • DH’s relative got a new job pretty much right away (via networking!).  It has better benefits and pays $1K more than his old job.  There’s also a little less hard labor work and a little more desk work which is good given his arthritis.  He’s disappointed because they decided the salary by asking him what he got paid and then adding 1K to it, and he is pretty sure he’s underpaid.  BUT it’s a better job and he won’t have an employment gap.  He did negotiate for another week of vacation and they didn’t blink.
  • #2’s father-in-law died recently of a stroke.  Really really sad.  :(  I remember seeing him at #2’s wedding and he was so very proud of his son.  Such a great family.
  • Went to the doctor and got lots of blood tests.  I have high cholesterol.  Doctor said to eat less fat and less dairy and to exercise more.  I already don’t eat much fat other than dairy (and use things like olive oil when cooking).  Last time I had my cholesterol tested my overall level was high but my good cholesterol was making up most of that– the bad cholesterol was normal.  I didn’t ask about that this time.  It is always true that I need to exercise more.  :/ .  Also my Vit D levels were low despite my daily supplement, so now I’m on 2000 instead of 1000.  That seems to have gone a long way to reduce the almost constant fatigue I was feeling.
  • action item for today: https://twitter.com/gaileyfrey/status/799380085610450944

Random life updates

Do any of you follow the story threads of our lives and then wonder what happened since we forgot to update?  Here’s some updates:

Little Kitty’s IBS and health:

  • She had idiopathic elevated calcium levels (meaning they don’t know why).  This was the best possible outcome since the other outcomes where they know were all bad.  First she got steroids for two weeks.  Then she got taken off the hydrolized diet and put on a low calcium diet and now her tummy seems to be all better.  No more IBS even when she steals her favorite people food (chicken).  It is mysterious.
  • Once her calcium levels got balanced, she got to have her teeth cleaned.  Unfortunately 7 teeth also had to be pulled.  Also it is insane how even though these costs are expensive, they are waaay less expensive than costs of the same thing in paradise.

DH’s relatives:

  • The one with the abusive baby daddy has moved back home.  She’s not getting along with her dad because he says she frequently does dangerous things when taking care of her son and he tells her not to.  Her step-mom is doing well with chemo and is really enjoying taking care of the baby while her step-daughter works at the Walmart a few towns over.  I have no idea how the menu planning stuff went down or if now that the oldest girl is back she’s taken over some of the responsibilities.
  • The other one who was a teen mom is still living with her two kids with her husband near her biological mom across the country.  She seems to be doing fine.

Kitty saga:

  • I don’t think I ever mentioned this, but my sister ended up taking a second kitten from our back-yard cat saga since we were only allowed to take two cats with us to Paradise.  Her two still love each other and my sister seems to have bonded with them.  Problem:  her new roommate brought a bully cat and boy kitty started peeing on things in protest.  So now her two cats stay in her bedroom suite during the day, mostly sleeping while the bully cat roams the rest of the house.  :(

DC1 at public school:

  • In the end, DC1 transitioned well to public school for 5th grade in Paradise.  I think it was good that it was still an elementary school.
  • Zie seems to be doing fine at middle school for 6th grade so far this year.  Zie has to do some testing to get admitted to the GT pull-out program.   One of hir friends from private school is in orchestra with hir, which helps.  They should both transition from 5th grade orchestra to 6th grade orchestra at the semester.  (DC1 decided against another year of trumpet, which means zie has to have weekly violin lessons to ease the transition since zie is a year behind.  Zie is surprisingly not that awful– much better than my memories of that first year of my sister practicing.)
  • Zie tested into 7th grade advanced math, which is really nice.  This and orchestra are two big advantages over private school.  I do miss having a foreign language though.  DC1 had Spanish as an after school program last year (they also had French, but only for native speakers(!), so we dropped that), but it doesn’t appear that anything like that is available here.
  • The after school program is cheap ($115/mo and goes until 6:30pm) and the bus stop is literally at the corner of our house.  For now we’re doing after school instead of having hir take the bus home so we don’t have to worry about hir being latch-key when DH is out of town for work.  The law in our state is vague… it basically says, you’re ok so long as something bad doesn’t happen, but if something bad happens you made the wrong decision.  If we still had a home phone I’d feel a bit better about a latch-key situation.  If we do go latch-key DC1 will need a cell-phone.

DC2:

  • Returning to the Montessori here has been great.  So great we decided not to start K this year and to leave hir in Montessori another year.  Then we may skip K next year if zie doesn’t get into the dual-language program.  We’re playing it by ear a year at a time.
  • Zie really does miss hir friends, but many of them were heading off to public school anyway (either K or Pre-K), so…  And we’re happy zie is back to more academics and less of the creepy religious stuff.  (Nothing against non-creepy religious stuff, but even though DC1 and DC2 both attended a year of preschool from the same Lutheran branch, DC1’s was not at all creepy and DC2’s was full of not preschool appropriate stories.  Just comparing the children’s bibles they each got was pretty crazy.  Like, it wasn’t our imagination.)  Hir reading and math abilities have skyrocketed since we got back.

I think those are the big things in my online blog persona life.  If anybody cares.

How did you learn how to handle making meals?

Specifically, I mean the entire process of procuring and preparing food.

DH’s relative’s household is currently having trouble because the wife in the family got brain cancer, had brain surgery (has an amazingly good prognosis, considering) and can no longer do all of the stereotypical wife things that she had been doing.  That leaves DH’s relative and remaining 3 kids at home completely helpless when it comes to meals.  She did all the menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.  Since she got sick, they’ve been eating a lot of rice and beans because they’re income limited and that’s all he really knows how to make.  He also has to work overtime to pay for everything so it’s not like he has a lot of time and ability to put into the process.  He says he’s pretty terrible at it.

He does have three teenage kids at home who are perfectly capable of taking on some of this work.  Which my DH suggested.

So with the relative’s permission we sent the kids a copy of our favorite easy to use cookbook for beginners without a lot of money (unfortunately Faster! is out of print) with instructions to double the recipes, along with a giftcard from Walmart (which is their local grocery store) for $100.  To give them practice menu planning with a budget.  I don’t know if it will do any good, but maybe it will.

I learned how to use grocery circulars for sales, how to build up a pantry, and how to comparison shop at a very young age.  My father would take me to the market and show me the process he went through.  I learned cooking from both my parents and have a repertoire of both of their weeknight meals.  At a slightly older age I took over cooking a few nights a week and once I got a driver’s license I was in charge of a portion of the grocery shopping.  (Before then I would occasionally be sent on my bike or by foot to get missing ingredients if necessary.)  I experimented with recipes and menu planning during long boring summers.

DH never really learned how to shop or cook until he married me.  In college he spent one year on the meal plan and then survived the remaining three years with a combination of eating out at cheap restaurants (usually Schlotzky’s and Pizza Hut) and getting free day-old bagels from the bagel place next door to his dorm.  After marriage I showed him how to comparison shop because when you’re living in a city and using public transportation, shopping requires muscle.  At first, I did most of the cooking, but one day when he asked me to make (my father’s) chili for him, I realized that that was probably something he should learn to do himself.  So I taught him.  Then he taught himself more.  Then he took a cooking class to get better knife skills.  Now he’s a better chef than I am.

We’ve been teaching DC1 to cook, and when I remember I try to show hir how to comparison shop even though we don’t really do that much anymore (we have our favorite brands and can afford them).   Being able to eat cheaply is pretty freeing, especially when you’re starting out and so much of your disposable income is going to food.

How did you learn how to procure/prepare food?  Do you do it the same way that you learned?  If not, what has changed?

A sad update on the relatives

The babies were set to be delivered at 37 weeks, to be induced if necessary.  The smaller twin had had several scares and had forced at least one extended hospital stay.

Just before 35 weeks, she went into labor.  They rushed to the nearest big hospital, and then to the big city hospital two hours away.  The smaller twin had died.  They stopped the labor and recommended she try to keep the babies gestating a little longer.  A few days later she went into labor again and 18 hours later they were born.  The larger twin was 5lb 4oz and other than standard preemie stuff (not wanting to be touched, lungs not fully developed) was doing fine at birth.  They held a funeral service at the hospital and another back home for the smaller twin.

The other baby is now off the ventilator and feeding tube and is cuddly and should be coming home soon.

An emotional update on the relatives: Also, a love note to having money

So, long-time followers of the blog may remember that one of the things we’ve committed to doing is paying college costs for DH’s relatives (5 kids, though technically we’ve only committed to the two oldest) in the hopes that they’ll be able to break out of the cycle of poverty that happens when you have several generations of rural teen pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the matriarch of this family branch is about to be a great-grandmother at the age of 56.  Our connecting relative is to be a grandfather at the age of 38.  The great-grandmother is, in fact, expecting three bouncing baby grandchildren this fall and the grandfather two.  His second oldest is having twins.  (An 18 year old step-cousin is having a singleton.)

This is a real shame, because the second is smart and has a solid GPA and solid ACTs.  She could easily have started a regional state school in the fall with money and would have gotten into the flagship had she applied (though probably not much financial aid there based on her scores).  She’d decided instead to commute with her sister to the community college for a year and then transfer– at that point, with college credit from high school she’d be a junior psychology major.

Instead, she recently found out that she’s heavily pregnant with twins and due in October.  We don’t know if she suspected earlier but was in denial or if she’s been lying– she had a surgery 3 weeks ago on her face that she should not have had if pregnant.

It’s too late for even considering an abortion and she doesn’t want to give the babies up for adoption (she did not think of it as an option).

They’re high risk in many ways– she is 17, she hasn’t been getting prenatal care (wasn’t even on vitamins), lives in a house with a smoker, she and her sister were both premature, twins… twins are an expensive proposition even when the circumstances are perfect.  Chances are these kids could have special needs, though we will hope they don’t.

One thing she has going for her that her parents didn’t was that even though she’s not marrying a boyfriend (hopefully they will work out paternity, hopefully the guy will pay support), her parents aren’t kicking her out of the house.  Her biological parents had to set up shop on their own when they were 16.  Unfortunately the previous matriarch who provided free child care passed away last year, and the current matriarch is still working.

There’s a supportive environment, possibly the more-so because the situation is so common.  The relative tells us that his other three kids and the extended family (on the step-mom who raised them’s side) have baby fever in anticipation.  They’ve been hitting up garage sales for baby things.

The oldest is still doing fine.  Her first year at community college went well and she’s proud she passed (with a B) her super-difficult science class even though most of the class dropped.  She’s still working her part-time nursing home job and the proceeds from that go towards her car so she can commute to school.  At 19, she’s broken the family not-getting-pregnant record.

The grandfather-to-be has no money.  The (step-)grandmother-to-be is finally working again, but as a waitress, so no time but not a huge income either.  The bio-grandmother-to-be has no money and owes years of back child-support.  The great-grandparents-to-be are also in huge amounts of debt– the husband is on disability, they own a farm (that they bought on credit from a scam artist… long story there) that costs them tons of money each year, the kids they decided to have in their mid-30s (instead of say, not kicking their 16 year old kid and his pregnant wife out of the house) are still living at home and not contributing to the family household.  There’s really nothing.  Nothing but family with no money and perpetual hands sticking out.  It’s terrifying.

If we didn’t have our own babies to consider, we’d do more.  As it is, we reminded the grandfather-to-be that we’d still be paying those college costs, so he doesn’t have to come up with $650 in tuition for the oldest or $200 in books.  Or $1000 for the second if they can make her going to school work.  (I think he’s not used to family members keeping promises, so he’s never thought of our offers as more than one-time deals.)

What this really makes us think about is how glad we are that we didn’t have children in our teens.  That we waited until we were out of school and had jobs that paid a good salary and a house and precautionary savings and an emergency fund.  We can handle emergencies.  We can send our kids to private school.  If, God forbid, one of our children becomes a parent in high school, we’ll be able to help without sacrificing our other child(ren).  We’d even be able to pay for daycare for twins if we needed to.  It will never be a question of who gets to go to school, or do we get to keep Netflix, etc.  Our children have a lot more second chances.

I love being upper-middle-class.  I wish everybody had the opportunities that we can give our children.  I wish it were easier to break out of cycles of poverty.  I wish we could do more, but we never know what to do, and there are things we could do that might make things worse.  And sacrifices we don’t want to make, not with us living on one salary and having a baby of our own.

Any suggestions for a 17 year old about to have twins?  Or a 38 year old dad who doesn’t understand why his kids are making the same mistakes he made, even though he’s tried his best to keep them from repeating the cycle?