Most Americans view a college education as a ticket to a particular profession or at least a higher paying job. That's good so far as it goes, but it misses another key purpose: the ongoing formation of young adults in the Faith and true preparation for life. These formative issues include an education that helps students better understand their faith, the world and the roots of our society; a healthy campus environment that allows students to mature spiritually and socially in the image of Christ; and access to mentors who can help students discern their vocations to the priesthood, religious, family or single life. So when developing plans for higher education, include both its career and formative purposes — your child may meet his or her spouse in college.
Finding a college or university that fulfills both purposes well and is a good fit for your child can be a challenge, but there are resources available to assist you, including the semiannual college guides in Our Sunday Visitor and The Newman Guide (thenewmanguide.com). Of course, the colleges included in these guides will be private schools, and the cost will be higher than for state-sponsored schools. While cost does create barriers, they need not be insurmountable.
College funding should come from multiple sources, such as:
◗ Parental savings. IRS Section 529 savings plans provide a tax-efficient way to save.
◗ An allocation of current income from parents. This can be facilitated if parents pay their home off by the time their oldest child reaches the college years.
◗ Student savings.
◗ Student earnings during the college years, including work-study programs and summer work.
◗ Tuition assistance from grandparents — one of the greatest gifts a grandparent can give to their grandchildren.
◗ The school: via scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities.
As always when making a purchase, it's important to keep your options open and comparison shop. The more a particular school wants your child to attend, the more it will be willing to stretch to make it happen.
Just a few words here about "financial aid." That phrase is a misnomer. When a school talks about financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and work-study, I'm all for it. But when the discussion turns to financial aid in the form of student and parent loans, much more caution is needed. That's not to say that it's wrong to borrow for a college education. It's been proved over a long period of time that the unemployment rate is much lower for young people with a four-year college degree compared with those with only a high school degree. It's also been shown that the earnings potential is significantly greater for college graduates compared to high school graduates. With that said, balance is necessary. Any debt taken on should be aggressively paid off. I don't believe parents should borrow for their children's college education. Most are not saving what they need for their own retirement.
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. It may be that in the not-too-distant future, young adults will be able to complete their general education requirements online, saving precious resources that can then go toward the final two-year cost of an on-site experience.
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 email@example.com.