April 15, 2024

Bucks: Bribing Children to Spend Less on Tuition

Bucks - Money Through the Ages

Zac Bissonnette is a senior at the University of Massachusetts and the author of “Debt-Free U.” In an article in the special section this week on Money Through the Ages, he offered advice for a student grappling with a choice of taking on student debt or starting at a community college.

One of the most common questions I get from parents is this: I agree with your message that student loans are evil and that my child won’t suffer by going to a public four-year college or starting at a community college.

But how can I convince my kid of that?

Here’s the problem: Your 17-year old is brain-damaged. Well, not really brain-damaged. But according to the pediatric neurologist Frances Jensen, the frontal lobes in adolescents are not yet fully connected. She told NPR: “It’s the part of the brain that says: ‘Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?’ It’s not that they don’t have a frontal lobe. And they can use it. But they’re going to access it more slowly.”

In other words, adolescents are less equipped than adults to make a rational judgment about the consequences of borrowing $20,000, $30,000, $40,000. This is why teenagers aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes or alcohol, rent cars, or gamble.

But they sure can borrow $100,000 to pay for a women’s studies degree from New York University. I’ve written at great length about the consequences of student loan debt: a federal default rate of 20 percent and rising, constrained career options, the fact that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, etc. I’ve also written about the strong evidence that starting at a community college will not affect your child’s career or life prospects in any way. And then there’s the Princeton study that found that career earnings track with aptitude, not the brand of sheepskin.

But if your child doesn’t find these arguments compelling because of an underdeveloped frontal lobe (really the only reason anyone could ever disagree with me about anything), here’s a back-up plan: Offer your child a $1,000 (or whatever) gift card to Neiman Marcus (or Bath Body Works — which would be easily the most awesome place to spend $1,000) in exchange for avoiding student loan debt and going to a college that’s affordable. Twenty years from now, you will both look back on it as the best $1,000 you ever spent.

I know, I know. This is unlikely to get you a nomination for the Congressional Medal of Principled Parenting. But think of it as the financial equivalent of a light tap on your 2-year-old’s hand before he sticks it into an electrical socket. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, and it just may save your child’s financial life.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6ba1d2cc6bf7012d01af3bb7baf7960d

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