A generation ago, college students loudly protested the materialism of their parents. All the while, those parents quietly continued to pay for their children's college tuition, room, board and textbooks.
Now the students of the '60s are parents themselves. They face paying for their own children's higher education. Sadly, the materialism of the '60s generation appears, in many cases, to have exceeded that of their parents.Consumption by American families has increased faster than earnings. After World War II, the ratio of consumer installment debt to disposable income was 2 percent. In 1989, the ratio stood at 19 percent.
Growing numbers have not saved for their child's education - a problem that each year around this time becomes clear to families of high school seniors. This is the season that colleges announce financial aid awards. Many parents wince when they see the difference between available aid and tuition bills.
It's true that tuition was far lower in the 1960s than it is today. But average income was lower also. And the idea of saving for the future was more ingrained among parents of that era.
I recently spoke with the father of a high school senior who indicated he had been successful in securing the lifestyle of his dreams - a home on the lake, a boat and three cars. He could not understand why he should have to sacrifice any of this to send his son to college.
The key word is "sacrifice." The reality of today's cost of higher education dictates that most families must be willing to sacrifice to secure a college diploma for their child. It is estimated that for a child born this year, the cost of a private college when he or she is 18 will be just under $200,000.
The financial aid system cannot bear the future costs for all students. Yet that is exactly where many parents turn.
Having little or no savings and a load of consumer debt, families increasingly depend upon financial aid. Unfortunately, many will apply for aid only to discover they are ineligible due to their income level.
It is important to understand the philosophy behind federal, state and institutional financial aid programs: The primary responsibility of financing a child's college education lies with the parents.
Failure to save and plan in advance has consequences. A student can be held hostage to selecting the institution with the lowest price tag, regardless of program needs or academic goals.
Parents of college-bound children should begin to save now, even if they set aside only $10 per week. They should visit a reputable certified financial planner and investigate various investment options.
Children also should be encouraged to work and save while in high school. This helps them develop a sense of ownership and obligation in the development of a family college savings plan.
Finally, I encourage families to get comfortable with the word "sacrifice." To achieve the educational goals of their children, parents may have to alter their lifestyles and downscale purchasing.
Higher education is still affordable. Parents and students, however, must make a strong commitment to a family savings plan and budget strategy.
(Phyllis K. Hooyman is director of financial aid the Hope College in Holland, Mich.)