This week a reader contacted me with a question regarding how to tackle the cost of college on just one income. Her son has just finished with college and now her daughter really wants to go to a 4 year university this August. While her husband has lost his job, she claims that she can support their family with her nurse’s salary. They would not be getting much in the way of financial aid or scholarships. This reader asked for my advice on being in more debt at their ages (50s) and whether community college is a thing of the past. Her situation is not unique, so I thought I would share my advice to her with you…

First, Community college is NOT a thing of the past. I have another post on my blog about that very topic. Steve Rosen at the Kansas City Star also did a great piece on community college as an option. Working and going to school is also an option. I worked full-time and went to college on the weekends! (Imagine what that did to my social life!)

Student loans — admittedly not great rates right now — are available. I don’t know your financial situation — i.e., retirement savings, investments, existing debt, etc. — so I cannot comment on whether or not you should “go in to more debt” right now. But in this economy, taking on more debt at present does seem like a scary thing to do.

My best advice is to sit down right now and start talking to your daughter about college. Put all your cards on the table and collectively, come up with a plan — where everybody is contributing. We are having this very same discussion in my home right now. My oldest is going away in one year. And, yes, she wants to go to a private, 4 year college. So, I know this is not an easy discussion. But they need to understand that college is a huge financial investment, one that you assume and trust will pay huge dividends throughout your daughter’s adult life and career.

Start by clearly stating the goal and then open the table up for ideas on how to tackle the goal. It might end up being a combination — community college and then a transfer to a 4 year college. Talk to your high school about “grants” that are available. They are out there, all you have to do is find them. Talk to your daughter’s high school counselor. They have many resources.

It’s time to do your homework and see just what your options are — and going in to debt is NOT the only option you have.

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Written by Susan Beacham
Susan Beacham founded Money Savvy Generation in 1999 after almost two decades in private banking and investment management complemented by considerable time teaching at the elementary level.

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