When College is A Means To No End: Financial Responsibility For a Murky Future, Finishing Up

Posted on March 22, 2012 by

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I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, a city away from all of those dedicated if deluded North Side of Chicago Cubs fans.

As anyone from Chicago knows, these fans are famous their belief in “next year,” “the comeback,” and the eternal second chance.

(see kslatz.blogspot.com)

As far as I’m concerned, though, that sort of “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” philosophy stays in Wrigley Field, and doesn’t even think of entering a discussion about a paid-for college adventure, where, I firmly believe, a “one-strike-you’re out” attitude should prevail.

So before I finish up the post addressing how to deal with your daughter, the thespian, and your son, who majored in Comp Lit so he could, apparently, read you Shalom Aleichem stories in their original (and all these years you felt contented with just watching “Fiddler on the Roof!”), I have. . .

A final thought for parents who invest in their children’s college time away: If your child, no matter what her major, flunks out of her college, that’s it. Over, done with. Letting her re-group and head back after a semester off doesn’t really get the message across.

She should look to the community college to continue her academic career. I suppose that if she truly excels and distinguishes herself there, you could re-visit the issue of college in another state after several years, but I’m pretty opposed.

You can have a calm, rational conversation about it. “We paid a lot of money for you to have the college experience, and you goofed it up. We won’t stay angry, and of course we still love you, but that’s it. If you want to go away again, you’ll pay for it. In the meantime, you’re welcome to live at home with us while you attend the community college here, and we hope you will continue with your education. Working is always an option, though, if you’re not prepared to study, and that would allow you to get your own space. We will support your emotionally, and hope you make good choices, but our financial contribution outside of room and board is done.”

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And what about our friend in Scenario C, at the special education college with an emphasis on an education in partying? In case you need me to tell you, you are not obligated to fork over multiple thousands of dollars to support your child in drinking and drugging and sex. It’s not part of the Parental Ten Commandments.

Sending your seriously learning-disabled child away to school ill-equipped to handle his needs likely continues the fantasy and lack of authenticity surrounding his possible future path, perhaps a fantasy that started when you dreamed he’d be a doctor just like his father as soon as he exited the womb, but one that should have stopped as his limitations in learning became clear.

We don’t get somewhere in life until we’re clear about who we are and what we’re capable of. So putting four years into partying is taking away from time which your son might have spent doing something helpful for him and his future. Perhaps neither you nor your son knows what that might be right know, but you can’t know what his calling is until you honestly start looking.

And there are options. There are apprenticeships that lead to careers that make fine money–in plumbing, electrical work, air-conditioning repair. This is going to require giving up your prestige fantasies, but it doesn’t mean your child’s giving up a good life. Perhaps he’ll never be a nurse, but he could be a certified nursing assistant. Or, after only 16 weeks of training he could be a phlebotomist, a job with good career opportunities.

And you should never forget the military. The military offers good career training, and, as my husband, who spent time in the army, points out: Everyone learns in the military. Sometimes the ways they get you to learn aren’t on the gentle side, but after your entire squadron has had leave cancelled because you didn’t manage to clean your bolt-action rifle properly–well, you learn.

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No matter what your child’s major, no matter how well she does in college, you can help her utilize her time spent there as a stepping stone on her path to adulthood, by ensuring that your child realizes that the choices she makes during this time have consequences, ones for which she–as a grownup–will be responsible.