Moms and Dads Attaching More Strings to Paying for College

More parents are behaving like business executives when it comes to helping to finance their children's college education: They're open to putting in some cash, but they want to know what the return on their investment will be.

"The trend now is that parents and students are looking beyond college," said Jodi Okun, founder of the College Financial Aid Advisors and a brand ambassador for Discover Student Loans, a division of Discover Financial Services. "They're looking at what you accomplish in those four to six years in order to get what you want after college."

While 96 percent of the parents responding to a Discover Student Loans survey said they see college as a worthwhile investment, one third said they would limit the amount of assistance they provide a child based on their offspring's major. It's no longer good enough to get a college diploma. You need to get one that puts you in a position to get a good job.

Okun says parents aren't talking about specific majors, but rather taking a big-picture look at their children's career direction, and what they need to study in order to achieve their career goals?

The Rewards of Engineering

Georgetown University provides information on the average starting salary for students graduate who with bachelor's degrees in 171 majors. Chemical engineering majors, for example, earn an average of $86,000, compared to an average salary of $39,000 for those who majored in social work.

The long-term earnings benefits of a college degree are clear, but that doesn't make it any easier to pay for it. So 74 percent of parents say they are very worried or somewhat worried about having enough money to pay for their children's education.

Okun says parents need have open conversations with their children starting as early as middle school about what they are willing and able to spend on college. That will help students start to set more realistic goals about where to apply. Young people need to understand that their parents have a lot of priorities competing for their money -- everything from paying day-to-day expenses to putting away money for retirement.

The Discover survey finds 48 percent say cost is not a factor when the student is choosing a college. "They're not saying you can't go there," according to Okun. "But if mom and dad can't pay for it, and students want to go to a particular college, the student needs to understand that this is what it will cost, and here's how much the gap is." But 44 percent of parents said they would limit college choices based on cost.

The survey found that 52 percent of college students depend on student loans, and 15 percent of parents believe their children should be responsible for paying the full tab of going to college. As a result, Okun says "when students are going to college, they should make sure their very best friend is the financial aid office."

(Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Jodi Okun as the founder of Discover Student Loans.)

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Rather than using college as a way for students to get a trade or a vocation we need to revise high school so that students can have an apprenticeship or a vocational education. We have forgotten that average doesn't mean stupid and that college is not for everyone. No one who doesn't want to go to college should be forced into it because our educational system fails to equip him or her with the skills for finding and keeping a decent job. This is part of what the common core is about. We need to expand our definition of a good high school education back to what it was in the mid 20th century: one that allowed people to hold responsible positions and let them have a good middle class life.

I have medical school debt, but if I can't pay back my student loans it's my own fault. Even if I'm going to be paying them off for 30 years they will be paid off. I may not have an Audi or Mercedes but I have a job that I love and enough coin to drive a used Toyota, insure it for cheap ($25/month at Insurance Panda) and take care of my family. I'm sorry that I'm not sorry that the average American can't have a luxury vehicle.

July 21 2014 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply