Dear Chuck,

The recent story of celebrities, business leaders, and wealthy parents bribing their children’s way to college has really bothered me. I feel bad for their kids. But it’s also called to light how much emphasis we put on attending college. Most people can’t bribe their way in, or even pay for college without incurring debt. What’s a college degree really worth?

Blue About Varsity Blues

 

Dear Blue,

Earlier this month, 50 individuals, including 33 parents, were indicted in the largest college admissions scandal to date. Parents paid anywhere from $15,000 to $6 million to alter their children’s SAT or ACT scores, get them on collegiate sports rosters, or buy their spot in the Freshman class at a number of universities. At the center of it all is William “Rick” Singer, who worked as the middleman, accepting bribes from parents and making deals with athletic coaches, standardized testing proctors, and administrators. Many of the students were unaware of their parents’ fraudulent actions on their behalf, but not all.  

You’re absolutely right – it’s a heartbreaking case for everyone involved. For a student to find that their parents had gone to such great lengths to cheat their way into a college or athletic program probably feels a lot like they’re saying, “I don’t believe in you.” Not only is it hurtful, but now their admission process to any university in the future will likely be complicated at best.  

What’s even worse is the injustice at the core of this scandal. Admission spots that could have been fairly earned by deserving, hard-working students were taken away by dishonest and unfair tactics.

College Education Is Not Priceless

Contrary to popular opinion, I would advocate that not everyone needs to go to college. And the college experience for students who do end up pursuing a degree can vary greatly depending on their desired career path and financial situation. I believe that God designed each of us and each of our kids uniquely, therefore a one-size-fits-all education path is nonexistent. However, in America, a 4-year college degree has been regarded as the “ticket” to a middle or upper-middle class life.

This mindset has put an incredible amount of pressure on students and parents alike to fit college into life plans, regardless of their financial situation or individual design. But as we’ve seen, this mindset of “first comes high school, then comes college, then comes a six-figure degree” can end in disappointment and serious financial burdens.  

According to Student Loan Hero,

Among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. Meanwhile, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in federal Parent PLUS loans.

Remember that switching majors or trying out different career paths during college can add on years and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. And none of this guarantees a job that will cover the debt upon graduation. If you or your child are considering pursuing a degree, consider using a tool like Crown’s Career Direct Assessment to help you discern the right career path and education plan for your unique design.

A Debt-Free Degree Is Possible

Earning a college degree debt-free is totally possible, although it may mean sacrificing a stereotypical college experience. Students can be proactive in high school by taking as many AP classes as possible, taking CLEP tests, scoring well (through honest means) on the SAT and ACT, and applying for scholarships. All these efforts, along with the option of attending community college for two years will help greatly reduce the price of tuition.

I’d also recommend resources like Lumerit Unbound. They help you save money while still getting a degree from the school you want. You can get a free quote by visiting their website.

Our boys applied themselves to studying and were awarded scholarships. Some earned college credit in high school, several attended community college and all had jobs while in high school. Working hard and making sacrifices isn’t glamorous by the world’s standards. But graduating debt-free, with integrity, and without $30,000 of debt hanging over your head is certainly worth it!

Responsible Parenting

I don’t doubt that many, if not all, of these parents thought they had good intentions. As parents, of course we want the best for our children. We want to see them succeed and have a happy life. But our responsibility as parents isn’t to move all obstacles out of our children’s way (snowplow parenting). Doing so robs our children of the opportunity to mature and grow.

Romans 5 says we “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Of course we don’t want to see our children suffer. What we want is to see our children full of perseverance, character, and hope, which are produced by enduring trials. Instead of moving trials and hardships out of their way, we prepare our children for them.

Psalm 127 gives us a beautiful picture of our children as arrows in our quiver. But we must remember the warrior’s job is to launch the arrows, not hold on to them. Our children are meant to leave our quiver; it’s our job to prepare them to do so well.

What You Don’t Learn in School

Preparing our children well includes teaching them many lessons they don’t learn in school (even at Yale or Harvard!). These start in the home and are taught through life experiences, trials, and your example.

  • Integrity.

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. (Proverbs 11:3)

Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. (Proverbs 28:6)

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)

For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. (2 Corinthians 8:21)

Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

My guess is that these 33 parents facing criminal charges wish they would have followed the wisdom of these verses earlier. Teach your students to walk with integrity.

  • Wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! (Proverbs 16:16)

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:6-7)

The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning. (Proverbs 14:6)

These verses explaining the value of wisdom aren’t just symbolic – wisdom is truly more valuable than a bank account full of money. Wisdom is eternal but money is not.

  • Stewardship.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)  

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matthew 25:21)

The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live. (Proverbs 15:27)

Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:7)

Stewardship is not ordering your finances in a way you can spend whatever you want. It’s ordering your life in such a way that God can spend you however He wants.

Bribing your child’s way into college: $1.2 million

Incurring student debt for a 4-year degree: $30,000+

Living a life of stewardship and modeling it for your children: priceless.

 

Originally published on the Christian Post, March 29, 2019.