Santa Clara University


The Big Q

Back to Blog

Paying For College – Who Should Take Responsibility?

Saturday, Apr. 28, 2012
The accompanying photo is by DonkeyHotey, available under a Creative Commons license on Flickr
The accompanying photo is by DonkeyHotey, available under a Creative Commons license on Flickr

The best college student comment on "Paying For College – Who Should Take Responsibility?" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate.  Entries must be received by midnight, May 13.  Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates. 

Kevin is enjoying his sophomore year at a small, private university on the east coast. He has good friends, he’s close with his professors, and he is involved with a community service club on campus. He also works 20 hours a week for dining services to defray the cost of his room and board. Unfortunately, however, he has just learned that a scholarship he received for the first two years won't be renewed, and his tuition money will take a big hit.

When Kevin chose this college, his parents had agreed to pay for his schooling; however, in order to afford the increased cost, they would have to push back their retirement, working years past when they intended to stop.

Kevin is already working the maximum number of hours he's allowed.  Assuming he can't find scholarships to cover the rest, should he be expected to attend a cheaper, state college? Or should Kevin’s parents be expected to make the sacrifice?


Further Information

Framework for Ethical Decision Making 
Who Should Pay for College? (USA Today College)
Student Debt and the Importance of College

Comments Comments

Miriam Phronesis said on Apr 30, 2012
This is a tough predicament. Clearly, Kevin really enjoys his school and is working hard to attend school there; however, one has to consider the financial burden that was placed upon his family. Appealing to a utilitarian outlook, it would be difficult to determine who would receive the greatest happiness from Kevin leaving or staying. However, if we use something like the fairness/justice approach, we get a clearer answer. Kevin?s parents are already paying the bulk of his tuition, so their monetary contribution should afford them the right to decide whether he should stay or go. While it is commonly expected that parents sacrifice for their children, it is also expected that they take care of themselves. As long as they provide a healthy, loving upbringing, the child, at some point, must no longer rely on his or her parents, remembering that his parents are individuals seeking the good/happiness too. The fairness/justice approach shows us that the parents have already made substantial sacrifice by paying for Kevin?s tuition; they should not be expected to give more. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Alex LeeNatali said on May 3, 2012
Although this is an extremely compelling case and a problem that many students undoubtedly face, the answer is clear, Kevin ought to go to a cheaper school unless he can find alternatives to convince his parents to help pay the additional burden of the lost scholarship. I believe this for multiple reasons, firstly, and this rests on an assumption, that there was a reason the scholarship was revoked. If this was indeed the case then Kevin is receiving his just rewards for his lack of effort or ability to maintain a certain grade point average. Secondly, his parents only have the legal responsibility to feed and house him until he is 18. Unless there was an understanding before he left for college that they would pay for college in general and not necessarily a certain amount for college, then Kevin has no right to ask his parents for excess funds. One argument that Kevin could possibly make to his parents is that the amount of extra money spent on the remaining two years is worth it because of the relationships he has made with professors. In a utilitarian sense, his strong relationships with professors may be well worth the amount of extra money his parents would have to pay instead of sending him to a local community college. Another argument could be that Kevin could offer to eventually help pay for his parents? retirement, in a quid pro quo sense and would result in the greatest amount of happiness for the most amount of people. - Like - 4 people like this.
Andrew Gill said on May 4, 2012
The lack of tuition scholarship will undoubtedly take a financial toll on Kevin?s family but I firmly believe the parents have a strong motive to push back their retirement. Allowing Kevin to finish his final two years at his current university will be most beneficial to his college life, not only preventing a chaotic change that could adversely affect his academics but also securing his friendships and valuable connections with those he has already met. His parents should financially support his academic career and hope the favor is passed on when Kevin has to pay for his own children?s college education. In order to give their child the best shot at success in our society today, parents for the most part are called to support their children financially to the best of their abilities. The monetary sacrifice of the parents is relatively small in comparison to the life long benefits and opportunities a solid education provides to Kevin. - Like
JMR said on May 4, 2012
Students and families can vary widely when it comes to expectations about financial responsibility. In this case, I would say that the expected course of action should be consistent with Kevin and his parent?s values. For example, if his parents highly value private education and the future opportunities for their son and value personal retirement less then it would be more consistent with their personal values to help pay for Kevin?s schooling at his current school. In addition, it is important to note that Kevin seems to be having a positive schooling experience and making meaning connections with the campus community. He is working as much as is allowed for his on-campus job. However, these limitations may not exist for off-campus employment. Regardless, a part time entry level job would most likely not cover the cost of expensive private school tuition. As long as Kevin is working hard in school, doing his part to work as much as he can, applying for other scholarships and his parents personally value his education at the private university, they should pay for his schooling as they have agreed to previously. - Like
aisha said on May 5, 2012
To answer the question, he should not be expected to attend a cheaper, state college because, as noted in the question?s background, the parents agreed to pay for his schooling when he chose the private option. It is unclear what his parents specifically agreed to but it is assumed that they would have to pay the rest of his tuition, even if that means pushing their retirement back. It is a supererogatory act for Kevin to make the move to a state college, but he is not required to. The expectation is on his parents since they agreed. However, assuming the parents agreed to pay under the stipulation that he would be receiving a scholarship then the burden to find an alternative solution is on Kevin because the contract between the parents and Kevin has been dissolved. It then becomes a supererogatory act for his parents to pay for their son?s education. - Like - 9 people like this.
T said on May 12, 2012
I believe Kevin has the responsibility to pay for his college education. His education is his personal investment in which he hopes to receive a generous return (ie: opportunities for jobs, networking, personal intellect, etc). If it is his investment, it is his responsibility. His parents do not have to pay for his education especially if they are taking out funds from their retirement fund for him because they are entitled to their own investments for their own future. If he has to take student loans, then he will have to and just work to pay them off when he graduates; maybe it delays his goal of buying a new car, but his education will appreciate unlike a brand new car. Everyone has to make sacrifices when they are adults and due to the cost of education and his family?s finances, he will just have to work and take a loan. - Like
Julie said on May 13, 2012
The issue of college tuition costs is something that I've personally dealt with and something that I know a lot of my friends have dealt with. Every family has their own way of dealing with the costs of tuition and I don't feel that parents should have to feel obligated to pay their child's tuition. There are so many great colleges available to students that offer financial aid packages or offer ways to help students better deal with the cost of tuition. If Kevin isn't able to find a way to negotiate his financial aid package with his university then it would be better to try and find a different / cheaper university to attend. The experience that you have in college is what you make of it and paying tons of money now for a private university (especially when the economy isn't as stable as it should be) wouldn't be too great of a decision on Kevin's part unless he's willing to pay for his tuition on his own (ex. through loans) I don't feel like his parents should have to feel as though they are obligated to bear the costs of Kevin's tuition when there are so many other alternatives available. Life is all about give and take and each person has to be able to find that balance. - Like - 6 people like this.
Miriam Schulman said on May 18, 2012
The comments on this case showed how an ethical argument could be made for both sides of the question. We picked Alex as the winner because she most explicitly addressed the ethical issues of utilitarianism and rights. - Like
Aisha said on May 21, 2012
I thought finalists were selected based on likes? As noted above, "Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment." As far as finalists are concerned, it seems as if Julie and I had the most likes and qualify as finalists. Secondly, are we supposed to be answering the question with a specific "right" answer in mind, or are we encouraged for thinking in a more nuanced way about the dilemma, considering various moral possibilities? I might have misunderstood the purpose of these questions, but I didn't think a committee was looking for one right answer. Could you please clarify the criteria, selection process, and purpose of these questions? Thanks. - Like
Miriam Schulman said on May 21, 2012
Thanks for your question. If you go to "About The Big Q" in the navigation, you'll see the full version of the contest rules. The top ten finalists are selected on the basis of likes. In this case, since we had fewer than 10 responses, any response that had any likes was considered. From the finalists, a committee of Ethics Center students and staff select the comment that they feel best addressed the ethical issues. That doesn't mean there's one right answer. People argued well on both sides of this issue. But the answer we select will generally have made reference to key ethical approaches, such as fairness, rights, greatest good, and so forth. There's a good brief description of these ideas in the Framework for Ethical Decision Making, linked at the end of the case. At the end of the day, there's no way to eliminate all subjectivity from this kind of decision making, but we work hard to stick to these criteria. - Like
A said on Jan 30, 2014
It is very obvious that Kevin is really enjoying this college and is working to his full potential to be able to lower the cost and get the most of out this private university. Now that there is a financial burden, I think it is all upon the parents to decide whether or not to pay for the private university or not. Kevin is working maximum hours a week to lower the financial burden as much as possible. The parents have already been helping Kevin out to pay for this private university for over two years but now they have to push back their retirement even longer because Kevin has to more years to go without a scholarship. If the parents chose not to pay for Kevin?s tuition, it can be seen as ethically right because they have already helped him out for a long period time and he is after all not a kid anymore. But if the parents decide to pay for his tuition, most is expected from Kevin?s potential because he is putting his parents in an annoying situation. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Danilo P. said on Feb 7, 2014
It is a very tough situation to find once self in. Kevin appears to be a very studious and hard working student, deserving of a scholarship, but his luck has run out. Some might agree that it is Kevin's responsibility to take care of himself, since he doesn't live at home with his parents any more, then again he is still not fully self-sustainable. It is ultimately going to trickle down to Kevin's parents and how far they are willing to go for their son. Any loving parent would do what ever it takes to make sure their child receives the best possible education that they can support. In that case, Kevin's parents would probably not hesitate to keep on working for a couple more years to cover the cost their son's tuition. Kevin on the other has to live with the fact that his parents are not going to be able to enjoy their last years fully. As is very often the case, the young care for the older, and later on when Kevin's parents would need more attention he would be in a better position to care for them. In my opinion, Kevin should analyse all possibilities, who knows, it isn't necessarily the name of the college that matters more then the actual education, and some state colleges have very good programs especially in specific areas. He might be surprised. In the end, it is a combination of trust and help between Kevin and his parents that will ultimately decide where his next choices will take him. - Like
Post a Comment

Tags: college debt, Financial aid