Study up for college decisions

While college isn’t for everyone, for those considering higher education, it is important to think about the purpose of such an experience, and given its high cost, how it will be paid for.

While a college education is appropriately viewed as a ticket to a particular profession or a higher-paying job, its purpose goes well beyond that. One of the most important reasons for ongoing education is to continue the formation of young adults in the Faith and true preparation for life.

College choices abound, including those that provide such an education through an authentically Catholic lens. A healthy campus environment will help students to mature spiritually and socially in the image of Christ. In addition, the college years frequently lead to the choice of a spouse. Because of this, it’s hard to overstate the importance of selecting a college environment that draws other students who love and practice their Catholic faith.

If a good Catholic college is out of the question financially, there are other options. I remember visiting with one family that recognized that unless their children received very substantial scholarships, the cost of Catholic colleges would be out of reach. They moved to a different state, near to a public university that has one of the leading Newman Centers in the country. Since tuition was less and there was no room and board, the overall cost was quite reasonable, yet the broader objective for providing ongoing formation for their young adult children was achieved.

When it comes to paying for college, you should plan on funding coming from multiple sources, such as: parental savings, including a 529 savings plan; an allocation of current income from parents; student savings; student earnings during the college years; tuition assistance from grandparents; the school via scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities; and by applying a portion of one’s tithe.

That’s not to say it’s unreasonable to borrow for college; it’s just that tight parameters need to be set. I believe it can be productive for a student to take on as much as $20,000 in student loans to achieve a general degree that accomplishes the dual purpose of vocation training and formation.

I don’t believe parents should borrow for their children’s college education. Most are not saving what they need for their own retirement. Adding debt in such a situation is not recommended.

With the power of the Internet, we are on the cusp of significant changes to how higher education is delivered, and these changes will provide options for families who can’t afford four years of on-site Catholic higher education. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries ( and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to