Cecilia Foede is only a year old, but her parents already have a plan for her college education.
Jennifer and Mark Foede have to start early — they have nine children and plan to send them all to college. And they’ve got an arsenal of savings tips, financial aid prospects, loan smarts, and parenting lessons to make it happen.
Affording College When Tuition is at an All-Time High
Having a large family is both a blessing and a downfall when it comes to paying for college, Foede said.
“You have to make a seriously large amount of money before you don’t get financial aid of some sort,” Foede said, but “unless you make a seriously large amount of money, you’re not going to have savings for all your kids that cover college.”
The Foedes — Mark works in the medical device field and Jennifer is finishing her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling — fall somewhere in between. While they do contribute financially to their children’s college funds, they and their kids rely on a patchwork of financial aid, loans, side jobs, scholarships, and good old-fashioned budgeting.
I remember my midwife telling me she had $50,000 saved up for each of her two kids’ college funds,” Foede said. “I am pretty sure my eyes became saucers.”
The cost of a college education is skyrocketing. The average cost of tuition in 2008-09, the year of the Great Recession, was $12,256 for public institutions and $30,804 for private schools. While the economy was slow to rebound, the price of college kept accelerating. It now costs an average of $16,757 per year for public universities and more than $39,000 for private institutions, according to the most recent data by the National Center for Education Statistics.
That puts footing the entire bill for their children’s tuition firmly out of reach for many families, including the Foedes.
Cecilia is their youngest child. They are also parents to Iris, 4; Kamea, 9; Reese 12; Dylan, 14; Alisabeth, 16; Ethan 20; Gabrielle, 22; and Zachary, 24.
Zachary and Gabrielle have already graduated from college, and are working as a computer programmer and a choir teacher, respectively. Their son Ethan is a junior in college, majoring in electrical engineering. Within the next four years they will have two more in college: Alisabeth who is eyeing a STEM career, and Dylan, who is entering high school in the fall.
Sending Multiple Kids to College? Here’s What to Do
Jennifer Foede shared her family’s tips for affording a college education, whether you are sending multiple kids to college or enrolling yourself.
Get good grades in high school
This is the battle cry of parents everywhere, but each good grade could mean money in your pocket when it comes to college affordability. Sports scholarships are talked up at the high school level, but academic achievement can be just as lucrative.
“Merit scholarships are a thing,” Foede said. “Colleges didn’t care about transcripts so much as ACT scores, but both were used to give additional scholarships beyond financial aid.”
Students should also use AP credits and other academic points to get ahead. Foede’s eldest daughter, Gabrielle, started college with a year’s worth of AP credits, saving her a year’s worth of tuition.
Kids need to save for college too
Saving for college shouldn’t just fall on the parents. It may be financially necessary for the kids to contribute in a meaningful way. The Foede children save 30% of the money they earn for long-term spending, including college tuition.
“While we couldn’t save $50,000 for each child, we can match what our kids save,” Foede said. “That makes them more motivated to save their own money.”
Her children got creative and started earning money well before they were old enough for a part-time job outside of the house.
“Around here, everyone loves when kids offer to shovel, weed gardens, or clean up doggy droppings from the yard,” she said. “Or babysitters — responsible ones who tidy the house and wash the dishes are worth their weight in gold.”
Once in college, Foede recommends finding a job either on or off campus that fits within your degree program. Not only do you earn extra cash, it looks great on your resume once you graduate.
Apply for any and all scholarships
The internet and your child’s school are fantastic resources to help locate scholarships.
“There are thousands of scholarships out there. Some are pretty obscure, and some are pretty small, but they add up to lots of help,” Foede said.
When applying, pay attention to the details, including deadlines and word counts.
“My daughter won a $6000 renewable scholarship for teachers by writing a lovely essay that an editor friend helped shrink down to the word limit by the skin of her teeth,” Foede said.
And don’t forget FAFSA. There are a lot of federal and state grants available, she added.
Choose schools wisely
It can be easy to pine for a dream school, but paying down tens of thousands of dollars in debt is no one’s dream. So pick a good school based not only on their programs and success, but also on what’s affordable.
“Private schools will tell you that they match public schools’ financial aid, but what they won’t tell you is that they cost twice as much,” Foede said. “My daughter chose a public school anyway. She got a full-ride scholarship, but room and board required some student loans that she decided were worth it. We helped out when we could, in addition to using the aforementioned savings accounts.”
At the same time, Foede added, don’t be afraid of loans if you need them.
“While they can be cumbersome, there are a few things that loans are worthwhile for: a house, a car, and college,” she said. “Don’t feel shamed by it.”
Start a 529 savings plan
If you start this education savings account when your kids are young, even adding a little bit at a time will add up fast over the years.
“When relatives ask what they should get your kids for their birthdays or Christmas, mention the savings accounts or 529 plans,” Foede said.
The Foedes set up their 529s as early as possible. While their two youngest don’t have them yet, the next four in line do.
Reduce your expenses
When it comes to spending, budgeting goes a long way both on campus and off.
“Don’t choose the priciest dorm,” Foede said. “Don’t choose the most expensive meal plan. Don’t spend all your money on alcohol — or any of your money, for the underage crowd!”
Prioritize your goals
Figure out what your kids (or you, if you are saving for college) really want. While the Foedes are preparing for all nine of their children to attend college, it isn’t a requirement, she said, if they choose a trade career that doesn’t call for a four-year degree.
“My hope is that as they grow and develop, they gain the insight necessary to understanding their potential,” Foede said, “and do their best to live up to it, whatever that may be.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.