The Washington Post

I have a rule in my house. If I pay, I have a say -- or at least you have to listen to what I think.

But should that apply to which college major your children decide to pursue if you are covering their college expenses? Janice D’Arcy, who writes The Washington Post’s On Parenting blog, asked parents how much we should encourage or discourage our kids when it comes to choosing majors. She also posed the question to Susan Ende, co-author of “How To Raise Your Adult Children,” a previous Color of Money Book Club pick.

“I think choosing majors should always remain the student’s responsibility,” one reader wrote in response to D’Arcy’s question.“ If parents choose for the kid, or threaten to influence their decision with tuition support, that’s not going to be proactive or helpful for anyone--the student will grow up resentful and unhappy, and likewise have no motivation for a job.”

Ende had a different take. “I think parents should require that their children think about their job life after college and find out what major will get them to that,” she says.

Ende believes it’s appropriate for parents to tell their college-bound children that they are to choose majors that will lead to a job or enable them to get into a graduate program that will lead to a job.

“It’s one of those areas of life that the adolescent college student is not really prepared to determine for himself, because he doesn’t have to pay for it and may not want to think about his independent life after college,” Ende told D’Arcy.

I agree with this person who commented on the issue: “While it is worth almost anything to get them out of the house, if you are paying their tuition they deserve to get some wisdom from you too about their major and finding some skill that someone will be willing to pay them for after graduation.”

I’ve told my children they can choose their major but that my husband and I plan on being very involved in helping them with their career planning. They also have to work hard by getting several internships and on-the-job training while they are in college to make sure that they can make a living at what they love.

Let’s continue the conversation. For this week’s Color of Money question: If you’ve paid for your child’s education did you try to influence or give advice about what major he or she studied, and if so, how did it work out? Send your responses to and put “If Parents Are Paying Should They Get A Say?” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

“Is Your Advanced Degree Worth the Debt?”

In my column last Sunday, I opined that not enough students — and their families, who are also taking on student loans — are asking what their college major is worth in the workforce. I wrote about a new report released by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal.”

That column hit a nerve with lots of people. In fact, I received a number of e-mails from Korean students who were assigned to respond to the column for their English class.

“After reading your article, I repented for not searching for my future job,” wrote Quo. “I want to study economics because it is fun but I never have given consideration for specific job.”

“I have a dream to be an engineer, especially related to aerospace and mechanics,” wrote Tae Doo. “I’m now preparing to enter university in Korea. Sometimes, however, I feel depressed thinking that this job may not make me much money than I expected. My parents want me to be a doctor (this vocation is considered to earn lot amounts of money in this country) but I wanted to become what I want. It was my dream job since primary school. I’m quite confused.”

Americans also weighed in heavily about the issue of choosing a college major.

“The choices that many college graduates make in incurring a large debt for degrees that have little employment demand, say a lot, unfavorably, about the quality of leadership this country is producing for the next decade of a globally more competitive world,” wrote Martin Heilman of Rockville, Md.

“Americans typically incur significant debt to finance the purchase of major assets like homes and vehicles,” wrote Thomas Druitt of Paducah, Ky. “ I would think that the choice of college to attend and degree or degrees to pursue should get at least the same amount of attention and thought that is devoted to the choice of a vehicle.”

Reflecting on his choices, Mark Waggoner of La Grange, Ky., said people should pursue something they love.

“I was in love with political science and would have loved being a teacher,” Waggoner said. “My foreign policy professor sat me down and told me to follow my passion and the money will come. He told me his daughters chose business and he was disappointed because he knew their passions. Unfortunately, I did not follow his advice. So, I decided on business because I know I would be able to be employed and could possibly make a lot of money. Now, I am 47 years old with a wonderful wife and kids and wishing I could do something different with my career, but at my age I don’t have the same opportunities I did as a 20 something college student.”

Holding Off Retirement

One fallout from the recession is that older Americans aren’t retiring, many out of fear that they won’t have enough money to support themselves without their jobs.

“Like it or not, millions of graying Americans, some past 75 years old, are rejoining the workforce or staying in it longer than once might have been expected, reports Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post.

More people who are older than 55 are employed than ever before, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Some of these people are just clinging by their fingernails to jobs,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College,

A survey last summer by the AARP Public Policy Institute of people older than 50 found that 57 percent reported that they were less confident than before the recession that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years.

The Revolution Can Be Televised

Did you watch the premiere of “The Revolution” on ABC? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of this new daytime program that focuses on giving people the tools to make their lives better. I’ll be doing a weekly financial segment on the show. In fact, my first segment airs today, Thursday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m.

As the financial contributor, I’m looking for people who are brave enough to come on the show and discuss their financial issues. So, if you have a money dilemma, send an e-mail to

For two upcoming segments, I’m looking for parents who want to teach their children how to handle money, and I’m seeking engaged couples struggling to talk about their financial differences. If you’re interested in being part of the show, you can also e-mail me at Put “The Revolution” in the subject line.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”



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