Drawing up a contract for college tuition

My eldest has one year left at high school. He is bright kid but a true underachiever in school. Given the experience of some of my friends who have kids already in college, I am considering drawing up a contract for our child which states that we, his parents, will pay his college tuition as long as certain parameters are met. It might be worded as a Rubric (I'm  a teacher) because he's used to Rubrics. Has anyone here tried this? Any suggestions?

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  • Is your primary goal with the contract to establish clear boundaries/expectations (i.e. "Don't be surprised that we stop paying if these criteria aren't met"), or to try to encourage/motivate him to meet the parameters?

    I think the former could make a lot of sense (if you are wanting to have an "out" for withdrawing funding in certain cases), but I'd just caution you (as a former "bright kid" who rather spectacularly underachieved in high school & college due to a combo of ADHD & anxiety) that this kind of contract isn't necessarily going to serve as sufficient/successful motivation for success in and of itself (depending on the cause(s) of his underachievement, which may be complex). Just checking in on your own expectations here :)

    Like 4
      • justducks
      • justducks
      • 1 yr ago
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      Resistant Punch Roller Excellent clarifying questions.

      Yes, our bright underachiever has ADHD and I'm a sped teacher by training.

      My primary goal is to establish clear expectations so we don't pour money into a black hole.

      I would love the contract to motivate him, however, given his performance in school since 5th grade, we have failed to find any external motivator that works (carrot or stick). So I doubt a contract would motivate him. I'm hoping that logical consequences will motive him: you don't meet our criteria, you don't get the money for the next semester.

      The only courses in which he has truly applied himself have been in his area of interest (computer science). So I'm expecting the first two years of college when he has to take Core required courses will be a bloodbath. This is the kid who can ace AP computer science and flirts with failing anything he finds pointless (all humanities courses). This is another reason why we are pushing for him to go to our community college for these first few years.

      Like 2
    • justducks Sounds like your own motivations and expectations are realistically balanced, in that case. :) Good luck to you all, and I hope your son finds his motivations! :)

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      • Beige Hail
      • Beige_Hail.1
      • 1 yr ago
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      justducks Hm. I would like to ask you to revisit your motivations around the contraxt. That last bit, in particular, makes me wonder if you aren't still hoping find an external motivator (if you don't do well, we won't pay). 

      Like 1
      • justducks
      • justducks
      • 1 yr ago
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      Beige Hail I will think on your suggestion. I'm viewing the withholding of tuition has 1. a logical consequence of failing and 2. saving our precious college money for when son is serious about using it wisely. So I guess that is an external motivator, yes. I think for our son's internal motivation to really kick in, he would, like you and others have described here, have to jump in to the Adult Pool and swim on his own for a while, but maybe he will surprise me. Just like all other developmental stages, I, as a parent, have really no idea what the heck I'm doing until the stage is almost over!

      Like 2
    • justducks When you mentioned point number 2, it made me think of having a type of clause that would allow him to access the tuition money again if he met certain requirements. For example, if he chose not to apply himself and failed in his first semester, you could include a way that he could prove that he would be ready to go to school again and truly apply himself. Maybe that would be working for a bit and putting some of his own money into the tuition funds. Maybe something to decide in conjunction with him? That way it doesn't feel like an all or nothing deal. 

      Maybe it would be important to include what the financial expectations are if he doesn't go to school... would he be expected to pay rent, get a job, have a curfew, contribute to chores? And then possibly clarify what the expectations are if he doesn't meet your requirements. 

      My little one is only two right now, but I have a feeling this stage will creep up on me really quickly. 

      I love that you are thinking ahead, and putting clear expectations in place!

      Like 1
  • Instead of university, would there be a direct line he could take? If he's interested in computer science, and you know humanities could be a waste of time, it may help if he takes some "workshops" or attends an online computer school. If he excels in those courses and sees the need for a four-year degree to truly pursue his passion, that may be the carrot he needs to focus academically. If he stays at home to start, I would make sure he has a job at a local computer store, or similar technical job, and contributes to the household to keep you from going mental and wanting to kick him out! 😂

    Like 5
      • justducks
      • justducks
      • 1 yr ago
      • Reported - view

      puddlejumper24 Yes, you are correct that in his area of interest, a four year degree is not required in my husband's experience (husband is in the computer field as well). The local community college has the type of computer courses you're talking about: online, workshops - which can lead to an associates degree if he's really motivated. Right now, he works at our local grocery store part time, year round, because they were the only place that would really hire a 16 YO and he can take the school bus there from high school - he didn't have a car when he started working there. But your suggestion of him working "in his field" is a great one and now that he has access to a car for work, he can look at jobs at places like Best Buy/Geek Squad if/when he's qualified to work at that kind of place.

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    • WordTenor
    • Not discriminating between the sinners and the saints.
    • WordTenor
    • 1 yr ago
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     Is he actually ready? 

     High school, especially at the rat race that we currently run it as, is absolutely exhausting to many students.  By the time they finish grade 12, they are pretty burned out. 

     I’m all for parameters on tuition payments, because in reality FERPA  means that he is responsible for the tuition.   As far as the university is concerned, you are  just giving him some money to meet his obligation to the school, and I think it’s entirely reasonable to specify under what conditions that money will be given   

     But in my now going on 12 years in higher Ed,  I have encountered a lot of students, almost all male,  who simply were not mentally ready for undergrad.  They wind up wasting everyone’s  time and money, to say nothing of losing their self-esteem, and most of that is due to the fact that they probably just needed to take a gap year or three. 

     If you think it is so likely that he might be unmotivated to succeed right now, please remember that undergrad will wait. There’s no hurry. We professors will be just as happy to see him at 26 as we will at 18. 

    Like 11
      • justducks
      • justducks
      • 1 yr ago
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      WordTenor Thank you for your perspective. I don't know any higher ed professors so I appreciate your point of view. A Gap Year or two/three - I've always supported that idea but part of me thinks if he steps off the educational conveyor belt now, he won't get back on, which it's not a bad idea fundamentally if he's just not into college and the work it requires - it's just hard for us to accept. However, a lot of parenting is accepting the kid in front of you versus the kid you thought you'd have. I think I would be comfortable with a year or two if it's spent in service (City year/etc) or in his field working but I also don't want to hold onto his college money indefinitely. But perhaps a Gap experience could be written into our contract as an option with a firm timetable so we don't hold that college money forever.

      And to answer your question: Is he ready? In my professional opinion, no. But I'm at a loss trying to see what experiences will make him ready since 15 years of primary/elementary/middle/high school haven't gotten him ready at this point. His job at the market has been a huge help with the life skills needed to succeed at college (getting to work on time & ready to work despite a variable schedule, meeting expectations of a supervisor, etc).  Maybe full time employment like that will give him sufficient skills and motivations to be college ready.

      Like 4
      • Agent99
      • Working to Get Smart at budgeting, finances and life
      • Agent99.1
      • 1 yr ago
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      justducks  My DH was a horrible student in high school and had no interest or motivation for school, let alone college.  He ended up in the military for four years and then worked construction.  Suddenly at age 25, he decided he wanted to go to college. He enrolled and graduated five years later Magna Cum Laude in Computer Science.  Now that he's in his mid-fifties it doesn't matter that he waited seven years after high school to get his degree.  

      I was the total opposite and got my degree in three years and graduated at age 20 after an accelerated elementary and secondary education. 

      Your son may need the time to mature and figure himself out.  While I see your husband's point of not needing a degree for CS, depending upon what area of IT he is seeking it may be helpful down the road. 

      Like 4
      • Beige Hail
      • Beige_Hail.1
      • 1 yr ago
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      justducks I have ADHD (undiagnosed until my 40s). I was the textbook bright underachiever (thanks, high school history teacher for writing that in my yearbook!). I stepped off of the college train all my friends were on, barely passed two classes my last semester (I only needed those two to graduate, you see). I was never, ever going to college, no way, no how.  I did take the occasional community college course in photography, Spanish, stuff I wanted to know.

       

      And then in my mid-20s, I started to pursue something that required me to take some technical (challenging) courses at community college. And I suddenly *enjoyed* the challenge, and began to change my deeply held sense of myself. Jumping forward, I now have two masters degrees (okay, one of those is a failed PhD, but given the undiagnosed ADHD, I am proud of my accomplishments). 

      If I had gone straight to college, my brain would not have been ready for it (as. SpEd teacher, you know that the frontal lobe takes until mid-20s to develop). If I had gone as a burnt-out 18-year-old, I would have lacked the internal motivation that drove me when I got to college 8 years later. I also learned a lot about my weaknesses and how to function as an adult by being thrown into the deep end of faulting, all of which helped me be a better student. 

      On the flip side, a friend with ADHD went straight to college, almost failed out, then pulled it together enough to make it through, but he has an enduring sense that he coulda/shoulda done better (and he dropped the science major he really wanted because he just couldn't handle the coursework). I can't help but wonder what sort of self-narrative (and career!) he could have built if he'd gone to college a few years later.

      Like 3
      • Beige Hail
      • Beige_Hail.1
      • 1 yr ago
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      Beige Hail That should be *deep end of adulting*. Sorry, I can't see a way to edit that from my phone.

      Like 1
  • I love the idea of the contract for, as Resistant pointed out, the right reasons. I was a classic example of what WordTenor describes. I bombed out of 3 colleges mostly because I simply didn't have the maturity level  that undergrad requires. All that boring sustained effort and grinding need for patience in the face of so little internal structure and external keg parties 4 nights a week. I like so many entered the job force checking the "Some College" box under education on the application. But I made my way and I finished a finance degree on my own dime in my early 40's with a 3.8GPA. It's a marathon, not a sprint. 

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      • justducks
      • justducks
      • 1 yr ago
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      Cornflower Blue Battery Thank you for sharing your experience. Yes, this is what I am sort of expecting as well. Congrats to you for finishing a degree later - in finance no less! I've had a few family members who went that route - finishing school in their 30s/40s and they too really applied themselves. Successes like yours reassure me that our son will be fine without joining the flood into college at age 18.

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  • I like the idea of this contract to set your expectations and make it clear to him under what terms you are willing to pay for his college. 

    I also like the ideas of those who contributed here. I have a son who struggled up to high school (academically) and now in High School he has a GPA of 3.3 (not honour roll but better than before). He is smart but just doesn't care about doing better than a B. He actually aims for that and no more. However he is still very immature in his behavior and mentality towards people and adults. He will be 16 when he graduates from high school (this is a common age here in Belize) but my husband wants him to go study outside the country (what he is interested in isn't taught here) but I am just scared that he will not be ready for that, going to school and living on his own and it's really expensive, I don't want to waste my money and damage my son's self-esteem. However, 16 year olds get paid minimum wage and couldn't get an decent jobs so that in itself is very demeaning. (I was hired to pack toilet paper at a factory when I was 17th and going school and I thought it was insulting because I was "too smart for that" lol). 

    we don't take gap years here. if you stop you don't normally end up going back till your in your 30s (I still haven't gone back - i guess this contributes to my fears that if he takes a "break" he will not continue.

    Hard decisions that we have to make as parents but all this info is good food for thought.

    Like 1
  • He doesn’t sound ready. I dropped out of university education and worked for a few years. When I went back (on my own terms, not my parents) I worked two jobs all through, paid most of my own way, and got a First Class Honours degree. Not bad for an underachieving drop out :)

    My motivation was partly it was my choices, and partly I understood  what low pay work really means, and I didn’t like it!

    Like 2
  • A contract will only have a chance of working if going to college and having you pay for it is really important to him. If he’s not that into college, a contract won’t help. It will do nothing to motivate him. But it will make you feel better about withdrawing support. 

    Like 2
    • Khaki Storm
    • YNAB book topics online: https://support.youneedabudget.com/r/q5w48j
    • Khaki_Storm.1
    • 1 yr ago
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    Wow, this is a tough and personal issue. Great job for being able to support him with tuition. My wife and I are taking the approach right now of this: we can help $x much and that's it and it can go for college tuition, trade school, business start up costs, or down payment on house, and ok or a wedding.  But, it's still $x much, that's it. There are no refunds or redo's. If the lawn fertilizing equipment business doesn't sprout, then it doesn't and there isn't a second go around at least with our help. I'll let you know how it all goes in about 4-6 years. 

    Like 1
    • Khaki Storm
    • YNAB book topics online: https://support.youneedabudget.com/r/q5w48j
    • Khaki_Storm.1
    • 1 yr ago
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    Also, my new co-worker was telling me about those with ADHD doing very well at learning new languages. 

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  • An Update

    We decided to not create a contract with our college student. He started college 6 months ago. He is now in his second semester of his first year college and is motivated to get good grades all on his own because he wants to transfer to a larger, more competitive university nearby that he couldn't get into last year because his high school grades in some subjects were too low. So he's busting his rear end to get straight As, or at least Bs, so he can move to the university he wants to go to. His current university is a good fit for him but the other university has a larger computer science program and more internship/work opportunities and he wants those opportunities so he's doing the work. Thanks to all who responded for your advice.

    Like 3
    • justducks Well done on his part! And yours 😊

      We are in a similar situation with our youngest son, who is 21. Been through 2 colleges and so far we've spent a ton of money. It's not easy figuring out what to do. If only there were a parental guidebook!  It's easy to look back now and see where we may have made mistakes but there is no vision of what may work or motivate him in the future. He feels like a total failure regardless of what we tell him. Not sure where to go from here.

      Like 1
      • Superbone
      • YNAB convert since 2008
      • Superbone
      • 3 mths ago
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      justducks Congrats for his excellent college start. My oldest of two sons was a high achiever in HS while the other was not. However, I'm happy to report that my youngest felt the money pressure and graduated in four years and in that time learned that he could excel through hard work and gained a lot of self-confidence along the way. It sounds like your son is on that path as well.

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