“Help Me. I’m Poor.”: Don’t Worry, Grandma Got Run Over by Your Tuition Payment


Seeing the Department of Education’s Tweet of “Help Me. I’m Poor” with a picture of Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids memorably shnookered at first made me think yes, she is poor because she is saddled by student loan debts. But then I thought about an all-too-common occurrence these days. Increasingly kids are going to college on the backs of grandparents.

Asking one person to contribute to a charity who happens to be a grandmother, the immediate response was that she had to write tuition checks for her grandchildren. The wording and tone was such that it did not seem a revelation of and reveling in the joy of being able to finance a college education.

Where are the parents I thought? In the grandmother’s instance, I believe her child’s divorce was part of the fiscal equation–not to say that divorced parents could not agree or afford to pay for their offspring to attend college. But I am aware of grandparents also kicking in, as if they were playing bridge or poker to pay for their grandchildren’s college education, even when the grandparents’ own children are affluent.

It used to be that if your parents paid or helped pay for your college that was a tremendous sacrifice–still is–and the deal was more or less, when your kids grow up, you do the same. A kind of generational pay it forward.

This is not to say that I am blaming children, in this instance adults of kids going off to college, for having the grandparents foot the tuition bill. In many instances, the grown children will have their college-educated kids boomerang right back into the nest and that will be a costly proposition, both emotionally and financially. I have not yet heard of grandpa and grandma sending a subsidy to their children to take care of their children as they camp out at home for a few years.

One way to look at the situation of grandparents sending their grandchildren off to college is that all is well, we simply skipped a generation of payers, but the ultimate outcome is good, the 18- and 19-year-olds are getting a college degree.

But I am concerned about what will the next step be on this colossal slide; when grandparents no longer can pick up the bill, even with long-living maybe great grandparents, the well will run dry.

Clearly there needs to be an overhaul and it can’t just be a blanket on an airliner covering up shnookered Kristin Wiig’s character with, “Help Me. I’m Poor.” “Erasing” a Tweet just won’t cut it. The Department of Education will have to come up with something better than that.

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