This Month’s Theme —
Education is a big, no mammoth, subject. In the context of financial planning, college education (and private school education) are among the top ten subjects people want to address and plan for in their financial future. In this communication, we want to draw your attention deeper, wider, a generous step toward the purpose of education, the beliefs and values that tether us to education choices, and what are beneficial questions to be asking today.
Sorting Out the Pressures
By Gayle Colman
A Personal Story
If I take myself back a decade, I recall the intensity, doubt and fear around our children’s future beyond high-school, beginning to form when they were in grammar school. I remember my first inkling, at a book club, where one member described in detail her children’s growing portfolio – I’m not talking about an investment portfolio. I’m talking about an academic, athletic, activity, and achievement-focused portfolio, to form the basis of her children’s future educational success. The lively conversation took me by surprise and I truly felt like a fish out of water. I thought, Can’t our children be children, while they are children?
Fast forward, my small fears grew significantly and challenges emerged when our children prepared for their college entrance. Two sources of pressure intensify this experience: 1) external (society’s expectations, heavily steeped in the community you reside) and 2) internal (the beliefs and values burned in your bones from family, friends and personal experiences). In New England, where higher education is a strongly-held value, particularly in Massachusetts where sixty colleges reside in the greater Boston area alone, we can’t help but feel the pressure to go along with the tide. If our kids were going to make it in the world, they needed to follow suit.
Rich, who grew up in New York and whose mother earned higher degrees, was brewed in an academic family who valued education and directed time, energy and resources to the pursuit of academic achievement. Gaining accolades for his high-school swimming awards only mattered if it supported his academic record. I, on the other hand, grew up in Florida in a family divided between farmers and professionals; the value of education was more varied. We were expected to go to college – but higher degrees were frowned upon… don’t become too big for your britches. (Seriously, this happened.)
We brought these conscious and unconscious beliefs and behaviors to the process with our children and coupled them with the raging pressure of our community and culture around us. We got through it. Our kids did fine. They are fine. College was one of many chapters in their book of life.
When I listened to this podcast from Malcolm Gladwell, I keenly remembered that list in US News and World report. When steeped in fear, scarcity and doubt, any source of comfort that your decision is right, feels good – even if the source is BS.
What is a better way?
Try these new moves and mantras.
1. Slow down.
3. Repeat, as often as necessary, there is a college for everyone. There is a great college for my child. (By great, recognize that great for your precious unique child is not the definition for everyone else or general one size fits all definition.)
4. Generously listen to your high-schooler and his/her/their life dreams, interests, desires. What does their communication tell you? What can you discover together if your son or daughter doesn’t “have it all together”?
5. When there are challenges, and usually there are, remember that your child is steeped in all of the school, community and peer pressure to succeed.
6. What are the questions to engage with your high-schoolers? Try a few of these:
• What will make you feel ready for college, if you don’t feel ready now? Do you want to go to college, now? What makes you feel prepared for this academic experience?
• If you want to experience a gap year, what would that look like? What experiences will feed your mind, soul and spirit?
• What pressures can we eliminate in this process? How would you like your college application process to be? How can we work together and create that experience?
7. You and your child each take 100% responsibility for your part in the process. 100% means that you each come ready to co-create from wholeness – rather than less than or taking too much responsibility. Note: for overly caring parents, this might mean you release all expectations of _______ (fill in your hopes and fears that are driven from pressures mentioned earlier.)
8. Remember, there are no exact and “right” answers; and the most beneficial answers come from your own internal wisdom.
Student loan debt is a hot topic for government reform. We’re wondering, how do borrowers of student loans fare in the long term?
Discussion, statistics, and policy reform initiatives:
One analysis of cost-benefit of student loans:
The debt-to-benefit balance is growing more precarious year by year, and especially since the pandemic:
2021 statistics on student loan debt:
The federally-mandated Coronavirus-pause on student loan repayment has reached it final extension—until Jan. 22, 2022:
Alternatives to Traditional College
College directly after high school is not the right choice for every teenager.
The gap year is increasingly legitimized. Harvard University states that more than 20% of its’ undergrads postpone their first year, and encourages them to do so.
The Gap Year Association qualifies the experience as those that involve: “increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers.”
Also consider — traditional college may not be the best fit for each young adult, and life satisfaction (the actual goal) is fully possible without it.
Lifelong Learning Credit
Tax credit to offset higher learning expenses, at any age:
The lifetime learning credit (LLC) is for qualified tuition and related expenses paid for eligible students enrolled in an eligible educational institution. This credit can help pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses — including courses to acquire or improve job skills. There is no limit on the number of years you can claim the credit, and it is worth up to $2,000 per tax return.