My column on cutting the cost of college drew some inspiring
reader responses that span several generations. World War II
veteran Thomas Barrow reminisced about how he earned his PhD in
petroleum engineering by working his way through school and taking
advantage of the GI Bill. "I earned all my tuition and education
expenses," writes Barrow. "College is expensive, but my PhD came
cheaply to my family. It can be done!"
But can it be done nowadays, when college is even more
expensive? Yes, says Rebecca Parker, a Michigan mother of three
young adults, who writes that she was "heartened to read your
sensible column on paying for college." She also "had to laugh a
bit to realize that our family has used most of the strategies you
For instance, says Parker, "all three of our children received
Advanced Placement credit, one took college-level math while still
in high school, and one is working her way through community
college while being employed nearly full-time. She has accumulated
more than six years of retail food experience and office experience
while she decides what her passion is.
"Of the other two, the oldest graduated in four years with no
debt; we paid tuition and she paid living expenses after her first
year. She received an offer of 100% tuition from the University of
Michigan to study for her master's degree. She did take out a loan,
which she is paying off at an accelerated rate.
"The third child graduated in 4 1/2 years, also with no debt,
but with over a year and a half of work experience in his field by
taking fewer hours each term and taking classes year-round.
"Not only are we proud of their accomplishments, but we're also
proud of their common sense and financial savvy."
Think the Parker kids are exceptions to the rule? Not
necessarily. In a survey of high school students by the College
Savings Foundation, three-fourths of 16- and 17-year-olds said that
it was their responsibility to fund part or all of their higher
education. Among those interviewed, 70% are talking to their
parents about how much college costs, and a significant number of
the students said they had already saved between $1,000 and
As encouraging as the survey is, there are still big gaps in the
students' financial knowledge. Even though 66% of those responding
anticipate borrowing for college, most of them haven't researched
student loans (start at http://studentaid.ed.gov), nor have they
projected the total amount they will need to borrow or calculated
the monthly loan-repayment amount (see the Student Loan Advisor
calculator at www.finaid.org).
That kind of information is critical to helping kids avoid
getting in over their heads. And parents can also take advantage of
this teachable moment to be straight with their children about how
much they are willing and able to pay for college. Don't sell your
kids short. They will rise to the occasion if they know the