We Can't Afford Tuition
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We Can't Afford Tuition

Jan Faull, MEd, on not being able to provide equally for siblings.

Q. My husband lost his job more than a year ago. We've been eating through the money that was supposed to pay for our daughter's college education. Now we can't afford to pay as much as we did for her older brothers. She's been accepted at her first choice -- an expensive private school. We need her to contribute more than her brothers did, but I don't want her to feel like she got the short end of the stick. How should we handle this situation?

A. This situation you face is disappointing, but it's not catastrophic. Contact the financial aid office at each college she's interested in, to see whether things may not be as grim as you think. Then it's time to pull your family around the table -- Mom, Dad, sons, and daughter -- and discuss options regarding paying for your daughter's college education.

Lay the family financial cards on the table. Talk about Dad's unemployment, and about how there simply isn't enough money to pay for the college your daughter has chosen. Ask family members for ideas about what they can offer in order for her to receive a college education.

  • The daughter can take out loans; Mom, Dad, or a brother will guide her through the application process.
  • She can apply for scholarships or grants; Mom, Dad, or a brother will help her figure out what she's eligible for.
  • Her brothers can help pay her expenses; the parents will pay them back when Dad finds employment.
  • Daughter can go to a less expensive college; Mom or Dad will go with her to visit local state colleges.
  • She can live at home and go to a community college for two years until the family financial situation changes for the better.
  • She can delay college for a year; you'll agree that she'll live at home, work, and save money, starting college the next year.

None of these options were the path intended for this young woman. She may be mad, sad, disappointed, and fretful at first. Allow her to express her emotions regarding the situation. Unless she was raised like a princess, she'll most likely bounce back and participate in the problem-solving process.

You may have been able to protect your daughter from the harsh reality of life up to this point. Now she faces a challenge. With you by her side, offering intellectual and emotional support, she'll figure out how to proceed. She'll develop character as she learns how to accept, work through, and manage adverse situations.