Homeschooling High School

March 7, 2018

Homeschool Parents: Analyzing the College Investment

Attending college has become a central canon of America society. Everyone is told to attend, for a myriad of unrelated reasons, yet the actual costs are not thoughtfully discussed.

We hear over and over again how college is an investment, and never a bad one. 

My purpose with this article is not to convince you college is a terrible investment! But as with all investments, there are risks. Also, as with all investments, it's up to the investor to determine if the risk and potential return are consistent. 

Many Roles for the Homeschool Parent

First, let's talk about the many roles of the homeschool parent. When it comes to college decisions, we are the parent, counselor, and accountant.

At first, this can seem overwhelming. We don't have the luxury of being just the parent and letting the school guidance counselor handle everything else. It's up to us to sign them up for the appropriate tests, to find the FAFSA forms, and know about deadlines for applications.

But we've been doing this kind of work for years, so I know we're capable of the required tasks.

Honestly, this isn't only the job of homeschool parents; it should be the job of all parents. Many counselors are overwhelmed by the number of students and are incapable of giving considerable thought and time to each child's circumstances.

Also, school rankings are partially based on how many graduates enroll in college, so are they giving unbiased advice? No, they're pushing college enrollment no matter the cost or appropriateness.

It's up to us as the parents to help our children consider all the options and costs when deciding if, and how, to pursue higher education.

Honestly, this isn't only the job of homeschool parents; it should be the job of all parents. Many counselors are overwhelmed by the number of students and are incapable of giving considerable thought and time to each child's circumstances.

If College is an Investment, Does it have an Acceptable ROI?

We’ve all heard of the scammers. Bernie Madoff, Enron, Tyco.

Do you remember the dot-com bubble? anyone?

These are all times when people were convinced return on investment (ROI) could be guaranteed. No matter what, you'll earn 8% interest forever. No one can ensure a rate of return of even 0%, because it could be negative.

When you invest, the acceptance of risk falls on you, the investor. You receive a prospectus outlining the nature of the investment and the possible risks.

No one gives you a prospectus for college attendance; due diligence is your responsibility. So what should you and your child consider when determining whether college attendance provides an acceptable return?

What do you want to do?

One of the first questions to consider when contemplating higher education is, does your child know what they want to do? I would dare say there are very few 18-year-olds who know. I'm 43 and would have a hard time telling you what I wanted to do forever.

But blindly paying thousands of dollars for an investment you know nothing about is risky. Or worse, you incur debt to embark on this journey to an unknown destination you never reach. I'm not sure there could be a more awful feeling than having college debt for a degree you never received following you around.

Can our child volunteer in a position similar to their interests? Could they shadow someone in a career they are considering?

So you need to think about your goals and have some idea of potential careers, or even 2 or 3, before making the decision that college is the next step.

Fortunately, homeschooling gives us the time and freedom to explore options before committing ourselves to a particular path.

Can our child volunteer in a position similar to their interests? Could they shadow someone in a career they are considering? Does their flexible homeschool schedule give them the opportunity to have a job not typically available to a high school student?

These are all ways to explore different careers and find one that suits their personality and desires best.

Does your Chosen Field Require a Degree?

So now that you've considered and hopefully narrowed in on a particular career direction, does it even require a degree?

There are some jobs which require degrees, no exceptions, such as:

  • Public school teacher
  • Physician
  • Accountant
  • Architect


However, other careers do not require a four-year degree:

  • Writer
  • Business owner
  • Dental hygienist
  • Sonographer
  • Real estate agent


Is the four-year degree your only way of entering your desired field? If so, then college will be necessary. But are there other careers that appeal to you that don't require higher education?

Just consider all the possibilities.

Is the Cost of College Reasonable to your Earning Potential?

Earning potential seems to be a part of the equation that few people consider. We talk as if all degrees are equal and all will increase your earnings to a level that makes all college debt acceptable. However, we should consider whether the increased earning will match, or hopefully surpass, the obligation of the debt.

Several years back, maybe 8 to 10, I watched a news special about rising college debt. This was when this problem was first beginning to be discussed.

There was a family who was disagreeing about college expense. The daughter and mother both thought the four-year college experience was worth every dime. However, the father wasn't so sure this was a wise decision.

They lived in Connecticut, and she could have attended the University of Connecticut at in-state tuition rates. However, the show ended with her choosing SUNY Albany. The staggering amount of debt they would be borrowing was over $30,000 a year.

But wait, it gets better. What degree was this family willing to pay over $100,000?


I was astounded, and I remember this all these years later. It makes no financial sense to me. The pay of a teacher is not commensurate with the obligation to pay back over $100,000 of debt.

To make the best decisions possible regarding college expenses and debt, you must account for the earning potential of the desired degree. It might be reasonable to have some debt if you intend to be an engineer or accountant. However, the salary for social workers and teachers would make paying large student loans difficult.

Does your Chosen Field Require Advanced Degrees?

This is yet another factor that rarely enters the college cost analysis.

Does your child want to attend medical or law school? Do they want to be a professor themselves? Perhaps they are entering a field where a Master's degree is optimal.

We should include this possibility when determining how we achieve a Bachelor's degree. If debt for advanced degrees is a certainty, shouldn't we be doing all we can to keep our debt and expenses as low as possible for that four-year degree?

Putting it all Together

As homeschool parents, it is our responsibility to help our teenagers put all these pieces together. We have the life experience to help them see the bigger picture and the effect of debt on their future.

We also have the opportunity as homeschoolers to provide more financial education than what a student has at a traditional high school. Discussing compounding interest and the total debt repayment on loans is an excellent start to making them realize they'll be paying back more than the amount they receive when they sign on the dotted line.

Millenials are postponing marriage, homes, and retirement savings because of their college debt load. The burden of this debt isn't good for their future nor the future economic health of our country.

If college is an investment, then we must give it the proper scrutiny to determine if the potential rewards are worth the risks.


Author Bethany Ishee

Author Bio

Bethany is the mom of six always-homeschooled children whose eclectic style of homeschooling draws upon Classical to Unschooling and everything in between. While homeschooling her children, teaching at a Project Based Co-op, and writing about learning outside of school, she still tries to find time to read a book, drink coffee, and pay the bills. Your can find her thoughts on living without school at