The Cost of Being Middle Class

My son who recently graduated high school was not a star athlete.  But he was in the music program for four years, participating in Marching Band, Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.

My son was never ASB president.  But he was in the top 6% of his class earning enough credits based on his Advanced Placement scores that he enters college as a sophomore.

My son is a quiet kid who always had teacher comments on his report cards such as “hard worker” and “pleasure to have in class.”

And for all of his achievements and dedication to education, he was not awarded one dollar in scholarship money.  Why not?

Because my wife and I make too much money for him to qualify for most scholarships.

A sad reality of college scholarships is that the vast majority are needs-based not merit-based.

Outstanding high school athletes have several scholarship opportunities; those at the top of their game in college even get paid for playing.

The few academic scholarships are highly competitive.  His college didn’t even award him work-study which is an on-campus job to help pay for his expenses.

In other words, he is invisible. 

There are plenty of other children like my son.  But you don’t hear about them.  No banquets or banners for them, no room in social media or news websites for them to be spotlighted.

Often you hear of stories about a child with one or no parents who graduates with straight A’s and receives a free ride to an Ivy League school.   It’s wonderful that those disadvantaged children have a financial advantage.  But there is something wrong when a child equally talented brought up with both parents in a middle-class neighborhood is overlooked.  There should be some scholarship money earmarked for them as well.

Because my wife and I don’t quality for government assistance, we are expected to fully fund the $120,000 for our son to attend four years of college.  We can only do that because during most of the nearly 28 years my wife and I have been married, we sacrificed each month so that over time we would have a nest egg.  However, that modest nest egg is for not just college, but retirement, vacations, and home improvement emergencies.

God forbid my wife or I need a skilled nursing facility.  At $10,000 a month, our whole savings would be wiped out within a year.

The monthly $2,500 for our son’s expenses surpasses our mortgage payment.  Don’t get me wrong, we are not struggling; however, we are not awash in funds either.

We were able to build savings by keeping our cars for at least 10 years (we have one that’s lasted 23), not being tempted to add on to our house despite limited space, rarely buying new clothes, and limiting expensive vacation trips.

In America, it is better to be poor or independently wealthy.  If you’re poor, the government will pay for your welfare, from full college scholarships to skilled nursing facilities. If you’re rich, well, you can take care of yourself.

The lesson?  For those whose income is too high for handouts yet not enough to pay for large expenses such as four years of college or a second home, working hard to achieve the American Dream comes with a financial penalty.