Why Parents Pay So Much for College

A friend of mine was feeling very ready to retire in his 60s after a long, demanding career. I was thus surprised when he told me over lunch that he was in some distress about his plans to stand down.

Him: “Our last child, our daughter, is 17 and surprised us a few months ago by wanting to go to an expensive private college. She has her heart set on it. We have enough money saved for a state school but can’t afford this place unless I put off retirement and take a second job”.

Me: “What are you going to do?”

Him: “I’m going to do it. There’s no other choice”.

Me: “Because she wouldn’t forgive you otherwise?”.

Him: “No, just the opposite. The problem is she would forgive me, in a heartbeat. She’d say that I had done my best and that’s enough. She would say that no one can do everything and not to feel bad about it. She would say that she loved me just as I am and not to worry about it. And she would mean every word of it. That’s why I’m going to do this for her. I can’t let her steal my lines. I’m the parent, it’s my job to say those kinds of things to her. I don’t want my child to generously forgive me when I can’t get something important done. I want her to save that for her own kids”.

He sucked it up and did it. His daughter graduated last year. Good father.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.