How to Change the Financial Futures of Two (or More) Generations

Working dad and teenage daughter looking at college tuition prices

Last year at this time, higher education was still reeling from Varsity Blues and the full realization of the extreme lengths people were willing to go to impress colleges. 

Oh how times have changed. 

A few weeks into the 2020 college admissions season, it’s no longer just where to go that’s on people’s minds, but should they go. Safety is a concern. Value – since classes may well be online instead of on campus – is a real question. Finances in the time of uncertainty are additionally worrisome. Finally people are asking the question that may save financial futures: is it wise to break the bank to pay for college?

It’s a dramatic shift in mindset, and an opportunity to change the financial futures of multiple generations.  

For years, people (parents and their children) have been gambling on education. The “all-costs” mindset assumed that the best college you could get into would naturally pay for itself later in salary and professional clout. So families leveraged financial futures on the promise of the dream, maxing out loans and hoping. And it wasn’t just parents; 18-year-olds were routinely signing debt agreements without fully grasping what they meant. It was an undertaking that left finances in tatters and a trail of sad stories like this and these that hamstrung futures before they started. Worse were the incompletes: the tales of students who financed college year to year, only to find they couldn’t make it to graduation, and left campus with a pile of debt and no degree. The decisions span generations: parents and students. 

For decades, no one really asked whether they should leverage futures for a promise of “if.” They just did it. 

But they’re asking now. 

Born of the uncertain times, the cautious new mindset has been reflected in questions from students, parents, and even the media: can families impact the amount they pay? And the answer is yes, they can.

“I have seen plenty of five, ten, fifteen thousand dollar increases,” College Coach financial expert Shannon Vasconcelos told the Today Show last month about financial awards, “which in the past have been unheard of.” One student talked about chopping $6,000 off her tuition. Another said she cut her tuition nearly in half – simply by asking. “Colleges really need to fill those seats,” said Shannon. 

The truth is, negotiating is a real strategy. And it’s not the only one. There are other things families can do to reduce the cost of college. But they need to know they can do them – and how. Directing employees to resources – helping them shop for colleges not just for brand and status, but for price and odds of merit money – has real impact. How much? Over four years, said Shannon recently, an extra $5,000 in yearly financial aid/scholarships adds up to $20,000 in employees’ pockets – money that didn’t come from the employer. 

“The pandemic has introduced challenges that we’ve not really seen before,” College Coach VP Elizabeth Heaton said recently. “And we’re getting a lot of questions from parents.” 

Providing answers is one thing employers can do to change the financial futures of not just one generation, but two.

Daughter showing mother college acceptance letter

Changing What College Costs Your Employees and Their Children

Right now, employers have the opportunity to preserve the financial futures of not just one generation – but two. How?

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

September 11, 2020

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.