If You Don’t Send Me To A Four Year College, I’ll Never Forgive You
I have an acquaintance in California whose son performed modestly in high school. He went to 12 years of private school, had all the advantages, and expected to attend a four-year college as his sibling already was. As a student, his work ethic was a constant battle with his parents; they believed with more effort and more studying his results would have been stronger. (This probably sounds familiar to some of you.)
By senior year, it was clear based on his GPA and test scores that he was not going to be a strong applicant to the highly competitive and impacted state universities. In California, the UC’s have as many as 75,000+ freshman applications with rigorous GPA and test score requirements. The CalState schools are just as impacted, although their entrance criteria are a little lighter, but not by much.
This student was also not likely going to be a good candidate for any private school academic scholarships. The family was not going to be eligible for need-based financial aid (grants). Their personal finances had taken a hit during the recession and they had legitimate concerns about their financial future, particularly retirement. They were wary of taking on too much debt, and/or co-signing on loans for their son where their credit would be affected for years to come. One consideration on the table was to complete an AA at a local community college and transfer to a state or private university and halve the expense. This option was not what their son had in mind…of course. The battle was on, with the son declaring, “If you don’t send me away to a university, I will never forgive you.”
Should they invest the full fare of private school college tuition, which ranges between $45,000-$60,000/year, because their son expected that? After all, a B- average wasn’t terrible. All of his friends were headed off to four-year universities, many of whom had similar performance records. Should their decision be influenced by their son’s high school performance? Should it be influenced by the fact that they had another child already in college whose performance and maturity was much better; would there be resentment of providing the opportunity to one and not the other? The parent peer pressure was as great in some ways as their son’s. If they said no, would it seriously harm their relationship?
In a business environment, past performance is judged as a clear indicator of future performance. Before an employee gets a raise and advances, there needs to be evidence of strong performance. Does this approach apply with a young adult? Studies show that just 56% of college students complete four-year degrees within six years. Only 29% of those who start two-year degrees finish them within three years. These statistics are pretty alarming to parents shelling out tens of thousands of dollars with no degree in hand in the end.
There is no good answer to this dilemma. If you are faced with this situation, you might first consult with the high school guidance counselor. Confirm your parent perceptions that performance could have been better, and that the work ethic was really the issue. This is important, because the expectations, pace, and curriculum is ongoing and is harder at a university. Part of this analysis really is about emotional maturity, and not every student is ready to go directly to a four-year college, away from home, as a freshman…regardless of the ability to cover the expense or not.
It is also our responsibilities as adults to be financially prudent with our expenses…and the ability to borrow money for college is easy….but the ability to repay those loans is loosely analyzed by the lenders. Most financial advisors would tell parents to take care of their retirement first. Finally, as impacted as community colleges are these days, they do serve the community and students in a very important way: they allow there to be a more realistic expense of college and provide a window of time to level up the student performance to truly be ready for a university.
If the parents do send their child off and assume the expense, at the very least, establish performance expectations ahead of time, such as: minimum GPA requirements; participation in the expense (summer jobs, part-time jobs, small student loans); a realistic timeframe to graduate; campus activities; and internships that leverage the college experience to be prepared for the world of work. Establish conference times – ideally in person – to evaluate performance and reset goals with your student. It’s simply a good business practice.
If you want more information about college and career preparation, feel free to drop a question or two into the comment box. Or just reach out to the Career Connection team for answers to your questions or additional information relating to post-college success and career options for college students. You can connect with us at –
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