Never before has this been more true than today. Middle class Americans are giving up more and more of their hard-earned salaries to send their children to college. I mention middle-class mainly because this is where I see the squeeze. Lower income families, while certainly pressed and struggling, are eligible for federal and state financial aid; higher income families have more options because of acquired wealth. Middle income families make just enough to live comfortably, but not enough to put much by for college or retirement. This is where I see the pain, and heartache of “the American Dream.”
Kim Eldredge, Associate VP of Admissions at NACCAP member school John Brown University, spoke at a recent event which I attended. His approach to the college finance process is one of measured hope. He counsels families every day to think about college in terms of future earning power, student success, and paying off debt quickly. I have heard Kim speak a few times and he is like a calm voice amidst a storm. He knows Christian parents want to be obedient to God’s word in the area of money, but encourages them to be prudent about college planning in the first place. He sees families just giving up hope if they find themselves in a position where they will have to borrow money in order for their students to attend a private, but better fitting college. Christian parents have chosen to send their students to secular college for lots of reasons, but money shouldn’t be the only reason.
Here are his tips (paraphrased a little)
- Read the scriptures with an eye toward making a plan, not just refusing to borrow. Believe it or not, borrowing money for college (or another wise investment) is not a sin.
- Make a plan based on your families’ values and faith in God, not just your financial situation.
- Fill out the Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA) at least once.
- Have your student apply to a wide range of schools, private and public. Sometimes a much better experience will be had at a private school which is more in line with your values than at a public school AND for about the same price.
- Decide if your family is willing to take out small loans with the commitment to pay them back within a few years after graduation.
- Review the individual college scholarship and aid packages your student receives with a careful eye. Most schools package loans based on Cost of Attendance and you could end up borrowing more than you need.
- Put a plan in place to pay off your loans. This is the second half of faith and works!
- Trust God to lead you to a God-honoring plan, and continue to ask for His guidance.
In my undergraduate studies, I had an extremely profitable, but fairly painful, one hour course called Personal Money Management. In this class, our elderly professor guided us through a study of God’s Word around the topic of money. We memorized more verses about money and the proper use of it than any other single topic I have ever memorized. I was actually shocked at how many verses there were, and how difficult it was to know the RIGHT answer when it came to what to do with money. Not just the spending, but the investing, and the theology behind it all. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul reminds the Philippians, because it is an important way to understand our great God and what we really value in life. Shouldn’t we spend some time thinking for ourselves about how God would want us to invest in our children’s lives with regard to money?