Social Question

somechick4321's avatar

Should the step father be obligated to pay for his step son's private college tuition?

Asked by somechick4321 (74points) July 19th, 2023

I have a cousin. Her son is very smart. He got very good grades in high school and worked very hard. He got accepted into a private school and got a scholarship. The problem is that even after the scholarship a tuition of over 17,000 dollars a semester has to be paid. The mother can’t afford it. I sent them a couple hundred dollars, but that was all I could do. The step father make more money than she does, so she wants him to pay. The problem is that if the step father pays the tuition he’ll lose all his retirement money. She said that even though he is the step father he should act as the father and pay. The son’s biological father is serving a long sentence in prison and can’t do anything. She feels the step father is the only one that can do it. Should the step father pay for the step son’s tuition. If so, how can I pursuade him to pay?

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49 Answers

SnipSnip's avatar

The aspiring student should not have, in my opinion, applied to a school with costs beyond his ability (including family help). If the so-called step father actually adopted the boy he accepted the good with the bad and the dad has no financial obligations. My suggestion is for boy to try to get scholarship to an in-state state school with lower costs, apply for all scholarships available as well as apply for work study program. The parents should not use their retirement funds for this. Parents know for 18 years that college is coming. Also, some employers pay for employees’ college costs. If the guy is a self starter, that might be a good option to explore. But….working full time and doing university in the evenings is not for whiners…it’s for people determined to get an education.\
Also, this is not your business and certainly not your place to try to persuade the parents.

elbanditoroso's avatar

This is far too situational – it depends on factors like the divorce decree with the original wife, the step-father’s ability to pay, the relationship between the boy and the step-father, and so on and so forth.

There isn’t one single answer. It is very much a very local decision within that small family.

There is also no “right” answer.

KNOWITALL's avatar

No, he is not obligated to bankrupt himself or the household for one child’s education. $17k a semester with a daddy in prison, interesting scenario.
Side note: Mom should have a plan B because if you harass and manipulate this man, he may just tell you all to kick rocks. And honestly, you may buy yourself a year, but then what?

filmfann's avatar

This is between the married couple.
My brother and his wife agreed to do this.
Many cannot afford to do this.

gondwanalon's avatar

Absolutely not. The step dad needs to think of his and his wife’s retirement. The kid had other options.
The kid can go to 2 years of a junior college and then transfer tons state University for a lot less money. That’s what I did. I’m no great success story but I had a long and rewarding career that helped me literally go from rags to riches. Living happily ever after in the upper middle class.

jca2's avatar

THe kid should apply for grants through the state, since his mother can’t afford it and the father is in jail.

In general, though, in different circumstsances, I think if the stepfather could afford it, he should kick in.

smudges's avatar

No way! And like @SnipSnip said, it’s not your business. The stepfather has worked for that money to retire. He deserves it, not the stepson. Do like I did…go to a state school.

snowberry's avatar

Absolutely not! The son should go to a local community college and finish up at a university later if he wants. if he’s as smart as you say he is, he should understand that nobody owes him tuition. Maybe he’ll win free tuition somewhere, maybe not. if not, he can pay as he goes.

And a college degree doesn’t guarantee success in life.

You can bet he won’t be up for caring for and providing for Gramps in his old age, so he shouldn’t deplete his retirement now.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Agree with everyone above. If he can’t get a Pell grant (which he can’t).he needs to apply for student loans.

jca2's avatar

@Dutchess_III Why are you saying he can’t get a Pell grant based on the limited information we have?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Because they’ll tell him it’s his parent’s responsibility.

janbb's avatar

Before deciding whether or not he can go to the school, the Mom could talk to the Financial Aid department and see if there is a way to work it out without the stepfather depleting his retirement accounts. I also don’t think he should do that or be persuaded to do that but sometimes colleges will work with a family if they really want the student to attend. If not enough aid is forthcoming, then I agree that a state college or starting at community college should be options.

jca2's avatar

No, @Dutchess_III according to Pell, if you don’t live with your parents, they’re not responsible, therefore, we can’t say because we don’t know if he lives with them or not. I received Pell for college and I filled out a few Pell applications lol.

kritiper's avatar

No. The kid should find his own way.

Caravanfan's avatar

Student loan. The stepfather’s first responsibility is to his own retirement and absolutely should not blow it for any student, even if it’s his own kid. Literally any financial planner in the world will tell him that.

JLeslie's avatar

No. Even biological married to the mother dads sometimes won’t agree to pay for expensive private school, or any college for that matter.

Can he go to an in-state school for less instead? Is there some sort of very specialized program at the private school?

He certainly shouldn’t blow his retirement savings on it. Maybe that partly explains why the mom doesn’t have the money.

Does the mom work full time? Has this step-dad been married to the mom since he was a young child? So many factors we don’t know.

To me it sounds like the mom didn’t plan paying for college for her kid and didn’t set reasonable parameters for where he should apply. Has the kid been saving for college? Are we talking Harvard or some other Ivy League? My guess is no since you just called it a private school. The scholarship does make the tuition semi reasonable though. Maybe get a loan? I hate school loans though.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

It’s wrong for the mother to ask the stepfather to liquidate retirement savings to pay for the step son’s ridiculously expensive, unnecessary tuition. Very wrong for the mother to even consider it. Does not bode well for the marriage if you asked me.

Smashley's avatar

I’m generally of the school of thought that colleges that charge small fortunes can stick it in their ear. Half of those costs are usually because colleges are bloated, monopolistic landlords and fast food restaurants, anyway. If the kid can excel, he’ll excel better somewhere that doesn’t push his family’s resources to the brink. Those after college years of living at home occasionally will go down a lot easier if you aren’t watching your retirement eating cheerios in his underwear at 11AM.

The possible exception is if this kid is one of those real shits who will be able to convert the clout of the school name and the access it gives into positions of wealth and power. In which case, you’ll want a contract of repayment. Interest rates are about 6–8%, right?

jca2's avatar

Just to add, for the sake of it, for thsoe who are saying the tuition is crazy expensive, 34k a year is not very expensive at all. Even if he got half paid for by the scholarship and the tuition is 68k a year, that’s not the most expensive college. A friend’s daughter is admitted to a very prestigious college and I googled tuition, and it’s 85k a year. My sister went to another prestigious college 20 years ago and it was 45k at that time.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

That is expensive, bordering on unaffordable for most. That said, People pay that much for new vehicles. I don’t see how, but they do. Spread 40k/ yr over 4–5 years and it adds up quick. For that to pay back, what they major in becomes very important. It may be worth it for an engineering degree but certainly not for one in liberal arts.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Early cashing out of retirement plan means

PENALTY of 10 % to 20 %

Income taxes for full amount.

Not a good plan to pay for college.

JLeslie's avatar

I think withdrawals from retirement funds for higher education can be penalty free if the withdrawal meets the necessary criteria, BUT still he shouldn’t do it. Pretty much everyone here agrees. Taxes would have to be paid of course.

jca2's avatar

@Tropical_Willie a friend just took money out of her Deffered Comp (403.b) to buy a car. She had to take out over 26k to get 21k, a tax rate of 22% based on her salary. I was surprised they’d even let her take money out to buy a car, since the rules are set by the IRS but she said they didn’t ask why she wanted it. Such a high tax rate. She said it’s based on her salary.

Not an efficient way to get money, I agree with you @Tropical_Willie.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

You can take out a 401k loan without penalty, you pay yourself the interest. There is opportunity cost with this though.

somechick4321's avatar

@JLeslie The kid never worked because his mom wanted him to focus on school and his studies. She says that if you get good grades you’ll be successful. The stepfather was with his mom and knew the kid since the kid was about 14 years old. He is 18 now. The kid worked very hard to get accepted to that school. If he can’t go to that private school he’ll be really disappointed. The mom works full time but doesn’t make enough. The stepfather makes more money than her.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@somechick4321 why do you think it is the step-father’s obligation? What was your thought process that led you to that position?

somechick4321's avatar

@elbanditoroso when he married her. Her kid comes with it. Even though he is the step father most would agree that he should act as a father to the kid. Most would agree it wouldn’t be right to shut the kid out or treat him bad or like a burden.

janbb's avatar

Bottom line is that it’s a family matter to work out what to do and you should stay out of it. I would suggest that they talk to the Financial aid office at the school and see if other help is available.

JLeslie's avatar

If paying the tuition will deplete his only retirement fund, that family does not have enough money to pay for that tuition even if it was his own kid or a child he had raised since a very young age, which is basically the same in my opinion. Most step parents I know are very generous and love their step children and care very much about their happiness and success.

I would love to know what is so special about that school. I think @janbb makes a good point to talk to the financial office and I think they should explore other schools as an option.

I know two people who sent their kids to very expensive private schools they couldn’t really afford. Both kids didn’t last past a year. One transferred to a school close to home and changed majors, and the other dropped out and became an ethician. That is just two, it doesn’t mean this kid the OP is talking about won’t last in this particular school if they find a way to pay for it. The two situations were very different, different reasons for why the kids went to the expensive private schools.

Let us know what happens.

Forever_Free's avatar

The Step Father has no legal obligation to pay a dime. Nor should anyone try to convince him of such. It is his choice, period.
Not all parents have the financial ability to put money away for 18 years.
Sadly even getting in and getting a scholarship to reduce to 34K annual doesn’t mean it can be done without financial sweat.
While I was able to afford private HS, it is not always the need to get an Undergrad at a Private Institution.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@jca2 in 2007, my son had been out on on his own for a number of years. As long as we had the shop he had no problem getting Pell grants. But then Rick got an actual job and my son was refused the grant.
When I called to find out why the guy threw a guilt trip on me.
“Don’t you think you should bear some responsibility to pay for your son’s education?”

Jeruba's avatar

Did anyone else pause over the shift from “she” to “I” in the last sentence of the Q? I’m suspecting that the OP herself is the mother. Why else would she think she is the one to do the persuading? of her cousin’s husband?? No use telling her to stay out of it, if so.

But I’m in 100% concurrence with those who say NO, don’t do it. This man has prudently provided for his own needs and care in retirement. He does not owe it to anyone to give that up. Besides, it sounds like if he did, he would not be able to count on them to make up the difference later on.

Acting like a father does not equal sacrificing your security in savings for your old age. Parents do their kids a favor by providing for their own retirement years.


> Maybe that partly explains why the mom doesn’t have the money.

Bonus points for insightful remark.


> Those after college years of living at home occasionally will go down a lot easier if you aren’t watching your retirement eating cheerios in his underwear at 11AM.

Great line.

jca2's avatar

@Dutchess_III My mother and my stepfather both worked for the Federal government, so their salaries were very easy to verify without even having to verify. Always got Pell grants, never had a problem. Not once.

smudges's avatar

My own father didn’t pay for my tuition and it was a lot less than this private school is. Sorry, but acting as the kids father for 4 years doesn’t mean paying for college tuition. I’m not sure where the mother or the OP got the idea that parents just naturally pay for tuition, let alone that it’s owed to their children. I think most kids who attend college expect to have part time jobs, and do have them, to pay for expenses.

Getting good grades in high school means just that…they got good grades in high school. It is not a predictor of how they will do in collge or that they will get an excellant job afterwards. The opposite is also true – I got Cs, Ds, and Fs in HS, but graduated with a 3.87 from college.

janbb's avatar

I have to say that we were able to send our kids to good private universities and it probably did make a difference in their very successful careers. But we had made a good profit when we sold a house and invested the money. We were fortunate and did not have to deprive ourselves terribly to be able to give them that gift. If we had not had the money, they would have gone elsewhere.

As for the idea of a kid saving for college, they could only make peanuts towards what it costs. But we did tell our kids they would have to work part time while at college for their book and recreation money. And for grad school they would be on their own – and they were.

smudges's avatar

@Jeruba I don’t think the “I” vs. “she” was a slip. I think it was simply the OP referring to herself, meaning how can the OP persuade the stepfather to pay. She’s already sent them some money to try to help and apparently thinks she should persuade him, even though the kid is only a second cousin.

janbb's avatar

@smudges And I agree with your interpretation.

jca2's avatar

@Dutchess_III One more thing about your most recent comment – Federal programs like the Pell grant go by specific rules (like most things in the government, lots of paperwork, protocols, rules), not people’s opinions and giving you guilt trips. The rules are always in writing, so if there’s any doubt, they were something you could have read, and could read them now (specific to the state you live in), online. The person calling you up and giving you a guilt trip should not have had any bearing on whether or not you were eligible, according to the written guidelines.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I have a feeling this is a cultural situation. In some cultures this mindset is normal.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

It depends on the agreement with the parents.
If they said if you get good grades then we will pay for your post secondary education then yes.

If not then it is a no.

Also it helps if the student has some skin in the game.

snowberry's avatar

Also, Step dad might have agreed to pay, but finances are now too tight. I bet this is the case for a lot of people. Expectations must be altered. Adjustments must be made.

seawulf575's avatar

No. Since I am a father and a step-father, I can give you my perspective. College is not a right. It is not something you have to have. As a provider in the home, the step-father is, in my view, obligated to pay for the mortgage/rent, food, utilities, etc. College is a nice-to-pay-for, not a have-to-pay-for.

Additionally, the son is trying to go to what sounds like a very expensive university. There are other options that might be more affordable. Even understanding the son is intelligent, there are a lot of intelligent students that don’t get into great universities because of financial restrictions.

If the step-father pays for all this college and loses all his retirement funds, does that mean he has to work until he dies? How is that fair?

No, the child can choose another school, get grants or loans, get a job to help pay for college while he goes…just like many others do.

Caravanfan's avatar

Agree with @seawulf575 completely. (I always like to note when he and I agree on things)

smudges's avatar

^^ I do too, and I jot the date down on my calendar. Hey! At least it does happen, right? ;D

Jeruba's avatar

Adding onto the prevailing sentiment, which I agreed with above (so well stated by @seawulf575), is the advice I was given as I approached college: namely, that a capable person can get a good education anywhere.

Out of vanity and a major dose of wishful thinking, I applied to one of the Seven Sisters. We could never have afforded it. Instead I went to a weird little college in the Midwest because they gave me a good scholarship. I had some wonderful professors, and even a poor instructor can guide you to great literature or solid material in whatever field. You don’t have to go to Stanford or Harvard. If the student takes some responsibility for his own education, he’ll do all right.

I was also probably much better off in a social environment of normal people than I would have been among the children of the powerful and the elite.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t see any reason to assume this is about an Ivy League school. I think that would have been mentioned in the OP if it was. Plus, many of the Ivy have big scholarships to give if a family is low income, which I assume is the case here, but maybe not. Can’t ever assume.

I remember one jelly talked about their child going to a religion based school, but I can’t remember for sure if it’s this jelly. I seem to remember this jelly works in a church so I might be confusing it all. There are plenty of expensive private schools that are specialized or local, not just the Ivy’s and not just religious colleges.

If this is for a religious school I will tell you something a friend of mine advised, let’s call him David, to another friend of mine. David is an ordained Baptist minister, he started a church during his career, and worked in more than one as either an accountant or youth minister. His undergrad was in accounting, he’s a CPA, but felt a calling to the church and later got his masters in apologetics and ministerial studies.

David told a very religious friend of mine who could afford any school to send her child to a larger state or private school that has more options for majors and is better known and that has a very active Christian group on campus rather than a Christian college. She was considering small Christian schools for her daughter.

seawulf575's avatar

Dammit. Everyone is agreeing with me. I must be slipping ;-)

Jeruba's avatar

Dear @seawulf575, what if you agreed with us?

seawulf575's avatar

@Jeruba I have on occasion. Not on political views, of course, but on things like this? Sure.

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