I'm taking a break from the world of 401(k)s and IRAs this week to revisit a topic that has generated considerable reader interest.

Late last year, I shared a letter from an East Coast transplant named Suzan who wanted to know why Utah parents don't save more for their children's college education.

After several weeks of sharing responses, I said I was putting the issue to rest. But that didn't stop your letters, many of them with great ideas. So I thought I'd share a few more comments this week.

First, a reader named Steven sent me an e-mail saying that, where he grew up outside of Philadelphia, not many parents could afford to save for their children's education.

Steven said he now lives in Utah because he was dared into coming to college by a school-bound friend who needed the moral support. That dare landed Steven at Ricks College (now Brigham Young University-Idaho).

"I had to take all night classes that first semester, and I went broke doing it. . . . I barely had enough money to drive back home for the summer where I could live rent-free with mom or dad for a few months while I worked to pay for tuition, books and gas money," Steven wrote. "During the school year at Ricks, I worked sometimes up to three part-time jobs. . . . I literally shook the couches in the lounge for change to buy food."

However, Steven wrote, he does not regret what he went through.

"And one thing I have learned . . . if my two boys want to go to school bad enough, they can pay for it themselves," he wrote. "They will learn the value of hard work and accomplishment from their own labors, not mine! Will I help here and there? You bet. But will I pay for everything? No way. I have learned the value of doing it myself."

Dave and Janet had a different plan. They wrote to say they parented eight children and decided to encourage responsibility by matching savings for higher education.

"If they earned money over the summer and spent it on cars and movies, no match," Dave and Janet wrote. "The amounts they actually saved in a college account were matched by us in the fall dollar for dollar. They had the privilege of actually writing the checks for tuition and books, and more appreciation of what that means.

"Usually, they were a little short of funds by the mid-spring. I had set up a 'general' family education fund when they were all very young. They could/did 'borrow' from that fund, as needed, the stipulation being that at some point, they work at repaying those amounts . . . so there was money in the pot when the younger ones came due. No interest was charged. . . . The no-interest terms were very generous, and the motivation to repay was the education opportunity of the younger ones in the family. Worked great."

Another reader, Karl, wrote that he thinks the question of whether a person should pay for some, all or none of a child's college education depends on how responsible the child is and what kind of prospects he or she has.

Karl wrote that his father had a good philosophy: "You might earn more money in the long run if you focus on college and get better grades and make better prospects for yourself that way. Earning a few hundred dollars per year (by working) while in college, when you could be studying, might cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost future earnings by failing to realize your full potential in college."

In some cases, Karl wrote, children who failed to win a spot in medical school or law school might have made the cut had they not been burdened with a job during college.

"Each case is different," he wrote. "Some parents should help pay, and others shouldn't, depending on the student, and parent's finances, and the student's motivations and prospects. . . . Bottom line: If a parent can afford it, and if it will help a child's prospects, a parent should help pay for some, or all, of a child's education, if the child is responsible. On the other hand, if the child is not responsible, or has no aspirations to attend medical school or dental school or MIT or get a Ph.D., etc., then perhaps parental aid is unnecessary. . . .

"Please tell Suzan that I grew up in Utah, and not all Utahns believe in the 'I shouldn't do much to pay for my children's college' philosophy. The robust number of investors in Utah's . . . college educational investment program is proof enough that many people in Utah agree with me."

Again, we have a diversity of opinions on this issue, but I think all of these readers make good points. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

If you have a financial question, send it by e-mail to gkratz@desnews.com or by regular mail to the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.


E-mail: gkratz@desnews.com