MONEY College

Grandma’s Willing to Pay $50,000 of College Tuition—if Only You’d Ask

New survey finds that more than half of grandparents want to help with 529 savings, according to Fidelity. Here's hoping your folks are in that generous majority!

With college admissions season behind us, many high school seniors are eagerly anticipating heading to college in the fall—while parents, on the other hand, are likely be anxious about how they’ll pay for it. Fortunately, many of them appear to be getting help from their own parents: According to a new study by Fidelity Investments, many grandparents are contributing to 529 college savings plans to help finance the high cost of education.

The study found that 53% of grandparents are either already saving or plan to save to assist in paying for their grandchildren’s college costs. Among those who have been socking away money, the median contribution is $25,000, though 35% said they expect to contribute at least $50,000. That’s enough to cover more than two years tuition, room and board at an in-state public college, and more than a year at a private college.

The 529 accounts specifically are an attractive option for grandparents because of the flexibility they offer, said Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity. Earnings are not taxed as long as the money is used toward education expenses. Additionally, grandparents are free to change the beneficiary of the account or take the contributions back at any point should they find themselves needing the money for their own retirement. (They will, however, owe income taxes and a 10% penalty on any earnings withdrawn.)

While 529s offer many benefits, families should understand the difference between how parent and grandparent accounts are treated in financial aid assessments. Any distribution from a grandparent-owned 529 counts as untaxed income on the following year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Parent accounts, on the other hand, are counted as assets on the FAFSA— not as income—and factor into determining the Estimated Family Contribution.

“Income is assessed much more heavily,” said Joe Hurley, head of

Because grandparent accounts have a larger impact on financial aid, he added, owners of these accounts might want to wait to use the account until the final year of college, or they could shift the ownership to the parent.

While the amount and frequency of 529 contributions depends on individual financial circumstances, Mary Morris, chair of the College Savings Foundation and CEO of Virginia529, said she’s seen an overall increase in grandparents getting involved education expenses. Anecdotally, she estimated that 20% of Virginia accounts are owned by grandparents. Many contributions are made as gifts on special occasions, a pattern Morris expects to see more often going forward

Despite the trend, however, “there’s a real disconnect” between generations when it comes to communication about finances, Hurley said. According to the Fidelity survey, 90% of grandparents said they would likely make a contribution to a college savings plan—if asked.

“Parents feel it’s their responsibility to help their children if necessary,” Hurley said. So they’re “reluctant” to ask for help.

But the price tag of higher education has made that conversation one worth having.

“Parents cannot save enough, on average, to pay the full cost of college,” Bernhardt said. “Grandparents recognize that and want to chip in.”

MONEY 529s

What Penalty Will I Pay On Leftover 529 Money?

Q: I recently graduated college and have money left in my 529 plan. I would love to use the funds to help relieve some of my debt. What will the penalty be for withdrawing funds for this purpose? —Stephen, San Francisco

A: You’re right to assume a penalty. While you can withdraw money from a 529 college savings plan tax free for qualified higher-ed expenses like tuition, fees and books, you’ll be dinged if you use the funds for other purposes. You will have to report the amount distributed as taxable income next April—and will therefore owe tax on it at your ordinary rate—plus you’ll pay an additional 10% federal penalty tax on your account’s earnings. (By the way, if for some reason your debt is student loans, you’re not off the hook; the IRS doesn’t consider them a qualified higher education expense.)

There is one out: If you’re a recent graduate—as in, you’ve graduated in the same calendar year as when you plan to make the withdrawal—you can still take out funds tax free for qualified education expenses. So, if you paid out-of-pocket for books your spring semester, and haven’t already taken a 529 distribution to cover that expense, you can withdraw an equal amount from your account anytime during the rest of that year tax free even though you’re no longer a student, says Joe Hurley, founder of and a certified public accountant. Keep in mind that, while you don’t need any evidence to make the withdrawal, “you just need to have proof available in case of an audit.”

If you still have money left in your 529 after that, look at any scholarships you received during your college career, says Hurley. The IRS doesn’t want to punish people for saving up for expected tuition that ended up being paid for with scholarships. So if you can attribute your leftover balance to those scholarships, the 10% penalty on non-qualified distributions is waived. The IRS does not state whether the distribution and scholarship have to occur in the same calendar year when applying for the waiver, but Hurley says most tax experts believe it does not need to match up. He suggests tracking the total amount of scholarship aid you received during college and using that amount to justify having the penalty waived.

Can’t use that workaround? Empty the account now while you’re still likely to be in a lower income tax bracket, says Hurley. If you wait a few more years, you could move up to a higher tax bracket and lose more of those funds to the IRS. Or, if you think you may want to go back to school at some point, your best bet will be to sit on the funds.

MONEY Kids and Money

Four Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Saving for College Just Yet

KidStock—Blend Images/Getty Images

You should make these moves before you start funneling away money for tuition, says financial planner Kevin McKinley.

As graduation ceremony season nears its peak, I’m seeing a steady drumbeat of stories warning of ever-rising tuition costs and education debt loads. It’s no wonder many parents of smaller children are panicked into thinking they have to drop everything and start saving all their money for their kids’ college expenses RIGHT NOW. Hang on just a second there, moms and dads. Although I’m certainly in favor of getting parents to save, there are four things I’d suggest you should do—and one you shouldn’t—before making “saving for college” the top priority. (Already completed all of these steps? Check out the MONEY 101 section on college for help getting started on your college savings journey.) DO save for retirement Since it’s possible to borrow money to pay for college but not to fund retirement, working parents have to put their own needs first. You should start by putting money in any pre-tax retirement savings plans at work (such as a 401k or 403b), at least up to any available matching contributions from employers. If no employer-sponsored plan is available, those with earned income should fully fund an IRA. You may be able to make a deposit for a stay-at-home spouse, as well. You can save up to $5,500 in 2014, or $6,500 if you’re 55 or older. The tax savings on the contributions to a pre-tax retirement plan will likely exceed what the deposits to a college savings account are likely to earn, especially in the first year. Then if you end up with a well-funded retirement, you can tap their overstuffed accounts once you hit 59 1/2—and have passed the penalty zone—to pay for college expenses as needed or pay off student debt incurred by your children. DO open a Roth IRA For eligible depositors, Roth IRAs can serve as a hybrid college/retirement savings account. These accounts—which allow for tax-free withdrawals—are typically thought of as a retirement savings vehicle. But if parents want or need the money before retirement for college (or other) costs, they can withdraw the Roth IRA contributions at any time for any reason with no taxes or penalties whatsoever. As an added bonus, money held in parents’ retirement accounts is less likely to be counted in a school’s need-based financial aid calculation than funds in the child’s name. DO pay off credit cards Double-digit interest rates charged on outstanding balances—the average APR is now around 16%—usually greatly exceed what you’d earn on your money elsewhere. So you’re better off erasing your debt before putting a lot of attention toward college. Plus, an improved credit score will make it easier for you to obtain higher education loans for your kids should the need arises in the future. DO prepare for the worst The majority of parents of younger children haven’t established wills, guardians, and other necessary legal steps—much less purchased enough life insurance to ensure that the tragic death of a parent will only be an emotional nightmare, and not a financial disaster as well. Moms and dads should see lawyer as soon as possible, and plan on spending a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the situation. You should then purchase enough term life insurance to cover all future expenses—including college—that the survivors might endure. DON’T pre-pay the mortgage Well-meaning parents often try to pay down their housing debt as quickly as possible, thereby saving interest expenses and freeing up money that would otherwise go toward the monthly mortgage payment. But that step should only be considered if the parents are ahead of their retirement savings schedule, have no other debt outstanding, no future major expenses on the horizon, and have at least a year’s worth of living expenses saved up. Those parents who don’t meet these criteria should stop paying anything extra on their mortgage until they have fulfilled the other aforementioned financial obligations. Otherwise, parents could end up house-rich and cash-poor—just when it’s time to pay for their kids’ college expenses and their own retirement. _____________________________________________________ Kevin McKinley is a financial planner and owner of McKinley Money LLC, a registered investment advisor in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He’s also the author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire. His column appears weekly.

MONEY College

Law School Goes On Sale—Up to 20% Off!

The University of Iowa reduced its law school tuition by 16% for fall 2014. courtesy University of Iowa

It's a happy hour for those headed to the Bar.

Law school applicants and students could be in for some sticker shock—the good kind—thanks to a growing trend of price slashing at schools.

The University of Arizona announced last week that it would be dropping nonresident tuition rates by about 30%, from $42,000 a year to $29,000. This is the second round of cuts for the school, which dropped tuition for the 2013-14 school year by 11% for in-state students and 8% for out-of-state students.

A handful of other law schools have made similar moves.

The University of Iowa reduced tuition by 16% for fall 2014. Penn State slashed tuition by nearly 50% for in-state students in the class of 2014 by offering annual $20,000 tuition discounts. Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island reduced tuition by 18% for the upcoming school year and plans to freeze rates there for three years. Ohio Northern University cut its tuition by 25% this fall. The Brooklyn Law School will cut tuition by15% starting in the 2015-2016 academic year.

Plus, the University of Maryland and University of Massachusetts have both frozen tuition in the past two years.

“Law school is too expensive,” explains Judith Areen, executive director of the Association of American Law Schools and a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “Significant drops in enrollment, almost by a third in three years, have put pressure on schools to find the right balance between cost and quality. I applaud these schools for trying to innovate and offer their programs at the lowest price they can.”

Why tuition is dropping

Like any good sale, these new prices are intended to woo prospective customers—in this case, students—while turning up the heat on the competition. For many mid-tier law schools, change has become necessary as they deal with how drastically demand for their product has fallen off in the past three years.

First-year enrollment at U.S. law schools fell 11% from 2012 to 2013, according to the American Bar Association, bringing the total number of students enrolled down to 39,675 or where the figure sat in 1977, when there were far fewer ABA-accredicated schools.

And two-thirds of ABA law schools reported declines in the size of their enrollment in 2013; 81 schools experienced a decline greater than 10%.

The steep decline in enrollment over the past three years—in 2010 enrollment was over 52,000—highlights the lingering effects of the recession on the legal profession. Students are steering away from the traditionally high-salaried career as it has left many graduates loaded with debt and struggling to find work in the field. “The problem is contraction in the job market: The recession cut back the number of jobs and now fewer law graduates are needed,” says Areen.

Not every school will formally reduce its tuition, but that doesn’t mean you might not be able to get in for less. “I’m sure every dean would like to offer lower prices, but not all can,” says Areen. “Instead, we will likely see a greater range of tuition available across the country. And the greatest difference will be on an individual basis, which means more to students than just sticker price.”

For example, some schools have responded by offering more merit-based scholarships—as Villanova University’s law school has done. Starting this year, Villanova will cover tuition for high-achieving students with GPAs above 3.6 and LSAT scores of at least 157 for all three years of law school.

“These kinds of tuition cuts will certainly be an incentive to students to choose that school over another pricer school,” says Halimah Najieb-Locke, national chair of the National Black Law Students Association. “Students were already doing cost-analysis on different schools, and on the level of debt they would take on, but now I think we’ll see much more of this dollar amount comparison pulling kids away from what might have once been their dream law school.”

Of course, the true dream law schools aren’t joining the price-slashing revolution. Top schools like Yale, Harvard, and Stanford remain in high demand with applicants because of their brand recognition and graduate placement records. But savvy students may be able to use the cost-cutting of other schools as a bargaining chip with even these top schools.

How to use this trend to your advantage

A student who applies to multiple schools can use acceptance letters from cheaper schools as leverage to sway their top-pick school to sweeten its own offer. Simply let the school you prefer know you’ve been accepted elsewhere, and what that other university has offered you, says Areen. Ask your preferred school if they can do anything more for you, and you might come away with a better scholarship offer.

Najieb-Locke adds that when you do approach schools about increasing scholarship amounts, you should make sure you can make a good case for why you want to attend that school, what you plan to do with a degree from that institution, and why you’d make an attractive student and future alumn.

“If your desire seems genuine, and you’ve framed the conversation around how a certain lack of funding—always have a specific number in mind—is holding you back from achieving your dreams,” says Najieb-Locke, “schools are much more likely to grant your request than if you simply say ‘what more can you give me?'”

Even after students have made their law school selections, they could still be feeling the boon of the drop in demand three years later. As grads, they will potentially come out of school with less debt. And, says Areen, a smaller pool of graduates means less competition for jobs.

MONEY College

How to Get Your Kid off the College Wait List—and Into Dream U.

Getting in might not be as tough as you think.
Getting in might not be as tough as you think. Tetra Images—Corbis

Colleges still admit wait-listed students over the summer. Here's how to help your kid snag an admission offer.

If your child landed on the wait list at his or her favorite college, now’s the time to make a final push for a slot in this fall’s freshman class.

As tuition deposit deadlines pass and schools have a better sense of how many accepted students will actually matriculate, colleges have already begun making offers to those on their B lists, says Peter Van Buskirk, a college admission consultant and former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College. But your odds of getting in grow slimmer as summer progresses and the open slots are filled.

Here’s how to get the school to go from “maybe” to “definitely.”

Find the decision maker

First step: Figure out who is the regional recruiter for your area, since that person will likely make the final call on your child’s admission. “You need to be on the radar of the person making the decision,” says Van Buskirk.

If you can’t find this information on the college’s web site, call the admissions office to ask for the name and email address of the appropriate contact.

Plead your case

Your child should send a note via e-mail to the regional recruiter, and cc: the admissions office, to reiterate that the school remains his top choice and that if admitted he would go. “Make sure your interest can’t be doubted,” says Van Buskirk.

The note should also tout any significant accomplishments since the original application was sent, such as an improvement in grades or receipt of an award.

“Present them with new information that’s valuable,” says Giesela Terner, an educational consultant. “Don’t tell them you did a 5K walk.”

One e-mail is sufficient. Badgering the recruiter or the admissions office—calling every day or sending nonstop emails—can do more harm than good.

“Students have done crazy things like sending a cupcake every day,” says Susan Hanflik, an educational consultant who specializes in college admissions. “That’s not going to change anyone’s mind.”

Think about the finances

Keep in mind that schools often have very little financial aid left for students on the wait list. So even if your kid’s dream school offers a spot off the list, it may not provide as much in grant funding as your family needs.

After May 1, many schools make offers to wait-listed candidates by phone. And colleges generally give prospective students only a short period of time—sometimes as little as 24 hours—to give their answers.

Since it’s a decision with a huge financial impact, make sure to have a serious talk in advance about what your family can afford and how much to take out in loans. “You have to discuss this frankly with your child,” says Hanflik. “If you have a kid who wants to be a teacher, how are they are going to pay off $200,000 in debt?”

MONEY College

Are You Ahead of Your Peers on College Savings?

Happy 529 Day! Sarina Finkelstein/bravo1954—Getty Images

A new report shows that 529 accounts are growing, but that investors are shying away from stocks.

Americans have a record high college savings level of more than $230 billion, and are adding to that at a rate of about $700 million more every month in 2014, some recent studies have show.

That sounds like a lot of money—until you consider that there are more than 82 million Americans under the age of 20. So overall Americans have saved just $2,800 per youngster, and the average amount set aside annually per kid divides out to just a hair over 100 bucks.

But in a special report issued on May 29 in honor of 529 Day, Morningstar pointed out some hopeful news. At least Americans are paying less to have their college savings invested in 529 plans. The fund companies with the lowest fees now have the biggest market share, Morningstar says.

Plus, competition is forcing most 529 managers to cut their fees, says Kathryn Spica, a senior analyst at Morningstar and author of the report.

Related: College Savings Cheat Sheet: It’s As Easy As 5-2-9

That’s good for investors, since research shows that low-fee funds tend to outperform more expensive competitors over the long term.

“There are a lot of positive signs,” Spica says.

However, Morningstar also found that investors have lately been opting for more conservative investment options. And that’s not a positive for everyone.

SOURCE: Morningstar

Protecting assets when your children are older—or when stock valuations are high, as they are today—is sensible.

But parents saving for younger children, who thus have many years to ride out stock market corrections, would do better to invest aggressively. As the Morningstar report showed, the average 529 conservative allocation tallied an annual return of 8.4% a year from 2008 through 2013. More aggressive funds have risen faster—about 14.4% a year over the same period.

Related: How much do you need to save for college?

Additionally, in a 2012 paper, Vanguard found that over 18 years, investors who start out aggressively and smoothly taper down their equity holdings are likely to end up with significantly higher college savings. (See especially Fig. 4.) Investing $1,000 a year aggressively early on results in an average balance of $40,000 after 18 years, versus $27,000 for conservative investors.

James Dahle, a Salt Lake City area emergency physician who has started 15 529s—for his three children and 12 nieces and nephews—says that one of the main advantages of 529 plans is that investments can grow tax-free. So investors who put their 529 savings in, say, bonds, which won’t grow very much, lose out on one of the biggest advantages. “The more you earn, the more you save on taxes,” says Dahle, who blogs about his investments at

MONEY Kids and Money

4 Ways to Influence How New Grads Handle Money

Take heart. When high school and college seniors come into some cash, they mostly do good things with it.

When her son recently turned 18, Lisa Kirchenbauer and her husband had him sign papers to take control of an account for minors they had long ago set up as a college fund–which had grown to about $60,000.

“What if I ran out and bought a car with it?” he asked.

It was mostly a joke question, but still heart-stopping for Kirchenbauer, a financial planner in Arlington, Va., because she knew he could do exactly that if he wanted to—and it would be perfectly legal.

There is a jarring lack of parental control when high school and college seniors come into some cash upon graduation – anything from a $100 check from Grandma to multi-million dollar inheritances.

“You have to go for less of a parenting, finger-pointing mode and talk to them as an adult – that’s what they are now,” says Rachel Cruze, who co-authored the book Smart Money, Smart Kids with her father, financial guru Dave Ramsey.

Mostly, good things happen with the money. According to college loan purveyor Sallie Mae, about 25% of parents say that at least some high school graduation gift money ended up paying for college expenses. A 2010 poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 25% of recipients put money into savings, 10% used it for travel and entertainment, and 5% put the money toward a car.

While it’s still a little scary for parents to lose control, here are four strategies to make sure that new young adults handle graduation gifts responsibly.

Test With Small Amounts

Many parents try to teach their kids healthy spending habits with allowances, which pays off when they hit young adulthood. Jill Totenberg, mom to a high school senior in New York City, started her daughter off with $5 a week in third grade, then upped it to $80 a month in high school.

Now, the 18-year-old has a bank account with a debit card and is learning to manage a credit card. Mom is pretty confident that any graduation gifts will go straight in the bank. “She totally gets it,” says Totenberg.

John Boland, a financial planner in Montpelier, Vermont, also has tested his 17-year-old near-graduate with a debit and credit card, necessary because the teen is on a travel sports team. “He knows that if he does anything foolish, he’ll lose it,” Boland says.

This past winter, when Boland’s parents asked their grandson what he wanted as a Christmas present, he said cash for college in the fall.

Roll Over Into a Trust

When higher dollar amounts are involved, young adults face pressure from families and financial advisers to lock the money up, especially for minor accounts that turn over to the child at age 18 or 21, depending on state law.

“I’ve had some of my clients say: ‘Can we not give him the money?'” says Kevin Ruth, head of private wealth planning for Fidelity. “The reality is, you can’t.”

Matt Brady, senior director of planning at Wells Fargo Private Bank, says he has seen parents convince children to roll their newly acquired funds into a family partnership or trust, so they can continue to oversee it.

“The worst thing is to just have them take control of money they can’t manage,” Brady says.

For money in trusts, it all comes down to the provisions for distribution. Many of them set limits preventing the youngsters from getting anything unless they complete tasks, like graduate.

Fidelity’s Ruth says the trend is to keep the rules as restrictive as possible.

Incentives are crucial, he says. “You can get money if you start a business or get a masters degree. A lot of times, they can only get out as much money as they earn. They have to show up with a W-2,” Ruth says. “And if you’re not doing the right thing, you will get zero money.”

The cost of setting up a trust with an estate attorney will depend on how much money is invested, and ongoing professional money management will cost an annual fee of around 1% of assets.

Allow a Little Splurge

For Tim Noonan, managing director of capital market insights for Russell Investments in Seattle, the key to his financial parenting was instilling a sense of mystery about the power of money. The message: “Money is a magical tool, but it will turn against you if you do the wrong thing.”

While he doesn’t expect his daughter to get a lot of cash gifts when she graduates this month, he was willing to shell out for a celebratory present. She asked for a party for all her friends, which he was happy to do because she already has a job lined up.

Totenberg, the New York City mom, is expecting her daughter to be responsible but also allowing for fun. “She may buy some shoes or some ridiculous gift pack from Sephora that is all pretty packaging—something she knows I’ll never buy for her,” she says.

Direct Gifts From Family Members

One stealth way to maintain a little control over funds is to direct family members toward appropriate non-cash gifts. This is what Kirchenbauer, whose son has the $60,000 college fund, is doing when family members ask what her son would like for graduation. To one she suggested a set of luggage, to another a suit, and to a third a laptop.

“My mom is just writing a check,” she said, which she hopes her son will put in a savings account.



TIME Education

‘Money Is Only Actually Fun If You’re Already Happy’

A nail polish exec wows new grads at Scripps College with her commencement speech and surprises at least one skeptical parent.

For weeks, all I could think was, “Come on, this is the best you can do? What about Sonia Sotomayor? Can’t someone check and see if she’s available?”

My pique had been brought on when Scripps College announced who would be speaking at my daughter’s commencement: Nonie Creme, an alumna of the school who in 2006 started a nail polish company.

It’s not that I have anything against polishing one’s nails; I wouldn’t dream of missing my bi-weekly mani-pedi. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder whether having someone in the beauty business send the graduates of an all-women’s college out into the world might send the wrong message.

What’s more, at a time when other commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients have been coming under heavy fire for their politics—International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde at Smith, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis—Creme seemed a pathetically apolitical choice.

Boy, was I wrong.

Creme rocked the house, giving one of the best commencement addresses I’ve ever heard or read. She introduced herself as “the first straight C student to give this speech,” and then related how she went on to found a multi-million dollar company, Butter London. Along the way, she dispensed the kind of practical advice that any parent would be thrilled to have their child take in.

First, Creme counseled, don’t let your major define you. Instead, she told the graduates, an area of study is really just “a jumping-off point.” So, when people stick up their noses at a liberal arts degree and ask, “What will you do with that?” there is only one reply: “Anything I want, actually.”

Of course, it took a bit of distance for Creme to understand this. She explained how she first felt like a failure when, as a fine arts major, she realized that she “sucked” at painting. It was only in retrospect that Creme figured out how her education had given her the tools she needed to create a successful beauty brand.

“If you told me that I’d end up using my Scripps fine arts degree to build beauty enterprises I would have laughed at you,” she noted. “I’d have said ‘I’m not an MBA, I don’t know anything about business.’” But what Creme did know was how to mix paint—the perfect skill for someone who would one day develop her own line of nail polish.

The second lesson Creme imparted was about humility and hard work. She recalled what it felt like when she first started out, standing outside a London subway station every morning with “business cards, a basket full of nail supplies, and a pay-as-you-go mobile phone” trying to drum up work as a manicurist. While she made decent money providing desk-side service to patrons in the financial district, she was ashamed at her occupation.

“I was well-educated, upper-middle-class, and here I was doing this job that required little more than a grade-school education and was what people ended up doing when they had no other options,” she said. “This time in my life taught me . . . we are not better than anyone else.”

Creme also reminded the undergraduates gathered under the shade of the school’s beautiful 75-year-old elm trees that their education was a gift and “not a free pass in life.”

“You are still going to have to work really bloody hard to succeed,” she said, and success won’t come overnight. Creme herself went from booking jobs on the street to becoming a sought-after manicurist for runway shows to being quoted in glamor magazines about the latest trends. Fashion editors coveted her custom-mixed nail polishes, and industry insiders implored her to start her own company.

But that was still just the beginning, really. At 34—more than a decade after graduating—Creme temporarily moved away from her husband and comfortable London home and joined her business partner in a “rat-infested basement” in Seattle, where, with the $50,000 in start-up money they cobbled together, Butter London was born.

“I have never worked that hard in my life,” Creme said, “and I pray that I’ll never have to again.”

As Creme gets ready to launch her second company—extending her signature custom colors to a new line of cosmetics and hair products—her third lesson for the young women sitting expectantly in front of her was for them to follow their passion.

“I learned to listen to myself, and trust that if I was happy, the only measure of success that mattered was my own,” she told them. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Money is only actually fun if you’re already happy.”

Later, she added: “Don’t be scared about what comes next, don’t worry about whether you’ll set the world on fire. Just stop, think, as you’ve been educated to do—and then try some stuff that looks fun and interesting. If you’re truly unhappy, try something else, and so on and so on, until . . . you know.”

Oh, and there was one more lesson. But this one was for me. I had prejudged Nonie Creme, deciding in advance that she was not feminist or intellectual enough for the occasion. That was wrong, and I told my daughter so. For me, it was an important reminder that some of the richest learning is to be found in unexpected places.

Creme later mentioned to me that she had heard how her selection had “caused some eyes to roll.” Yet she did not bow out. Instead, she took on the challenge, stood before hundreds of people, and with warmth and wit shared her amazing story of hard work, grit and smarts. And, fittingly, she nailed it.




Haverford’s Commencement Speaker Explains Why He Called Out ‘Arrogant and Immature’ Student Protesters

Commencement Speech Rebuke
William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, delivers his commencement speech to the graduates of Haverford College on Sunday. He called the controversy over a planned speaker sad and troubling. Clem Murray—AP

Following controversy over the school’s graduation speaker, former Princeton University President William Bowen says social media has unfairly amplified the voices of a few

Correction appended, May 20, 2014

On Sunday, former Princeton University president William Bowen used his graduation address at Haverford College to admonish a group of students whose criticism of the planned commencement speaker, former University of California, Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, led him to bow out of the event.

Nearly 50 students and three faculty members wrote a letter faulting Birgeneau for his handling of a 2011 student-led Occupy Cal protest, in which police used batons against students. The letter laid out nine demands for Birgeneau before he could be given an honorary degree, including a pledge that the former chancellor lead efforts to retrain campus police, support reparations for affected Occupy protesters and issue a public apology. Birgeneau spurned the offer — and the ceremony. He was one of a handful of prominent voices who withdrew from commencement events this year following pressure from students. Earlier outcries led former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to bow out as a Rutgers graduation speaker, International Monetary Fund head Christine LaGarde to withdraw from the Smith College commencement and Brandeis University to rescind an honorary degree offer to writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Bowen, who replaced Birgeneau as Haverford’s speaker, used his remarks to criticize what he called a sad and troubling series of events. In a conversation with TIME, Bowen talks about the reasons he directly responded to the controversy and why he believes social media has amplified the voices of a few in ways he hasn’t seen since his first position as a Princeton professor in the 1950s.

Why did you feel compelled to speak out about the students’ demands of Birgeneau?

Various people in the academic community got in touch with me and felt I really had to say something, that it wasn’t satisfactory from the standpoint of the broader academic community for there to be silence about this. I thought, alright, I can. I got in touch with [Haverford College] President [Daniel] Weiss and volunteered. It wasn’t his idea.

You think the students’ approach was immature and arrogant.

I do.


I think that when you disagree with someone as some of the students and a few faculty also did with Birgeneau’s handling of unrest at Berkeley, you communicate your displeasure, but in a civil way. You don’t issue a peremptory set of “demands” that really read like an indictment delivered by a self-selected jury absent counter-argument. You just don’t do that. And if your interest is in debating these issues, that’s not the way to encourage a debate. The way to encourage a debate is to say, we have these concerns, these disagreements. Please come and discuss them with us. That would’ve been I think the right way to proceed.

But do you put some of this on Birgeneau as well? Do you think he shouldn’t have backed down?

I do. I do. I thought he should’ve been there. Some years ago at Princeton, George Shultz [who was appointed to several positions in the Nixon administration] was given an honorary degree in the midst of the Vietnam War. But our honorary degree process at Princeton concluded that Shultz had been a quintessential public servant through good days and bad even though many of us disagreed with this particular set of political decisions about Vietnam. And so we went ahead. And the students mostly behaved very well. The protesters stood and turned their backs when Shultz got his degree to show their disapproval. And he just sat there calmly and we went on with it. He had the courage to realize that there were going to be protests and he just accepted it.

You’ve been in higher education since the 1950s and seen protests against the Vietnam War and South African apartheid and now movements like Occupy. How has student activism changed over the years?

I would say this is mild compared to that. It’s in part a product of social media. The fact that it’s so easy today for a few voices to get a lot of bandwidth. And that didn’t used to be the case, so that’s changed. The rules of the road say protesters have the right to their views and to express them in non-disruptive ways and there should then be a discussion and debate. The rules of the road haven’t changed, but this suggests that sometimes sharp voices raised inappropriately and really stridently can discourage that kind of conversation.

It’s curious this year that several high-profile speakers declined to speak at graduation ceremonies. What do you think is going on?

Contagion, and I think that’s one of the reasons so many people urged me to say something. I hope that my talk may have in some way helped to arrest contagion. I think it perhaps has.

You received a standing ovation from some family and guests. What did you expect the response to be?

I had no idea, and it wasn’t actually anything on my mind. I’ve learned over many years through thick and thin to say what I believe is the right thing to say and then let the aftermath be the aftermath. I am fortunately now on a wonderful perch in the sky in that I have no responsibility for running a particular institution, so I have a wonderful luxury of saying what I believe.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the scale of the standing ovation.


Why the ‘Hookup Generation’ Does Not Need to Learn How to Date

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Exploring the absurdity of a Boston College class that requires students to go on dates

Over the weekend, an article in the Boston Globe highlighted a class at Boston College in which the professor offers extra credit to students if they ask another student out on a date. (The date is mandatory in another one of her seminars.) The rules: it must be a legitimate love interest; they must ask in person (not via text, etc.); the love interest cannot know the date is an assignment; and the date must last 45-90 minutes and cannot involve any sexual contact. Professor Kerry Cronin argues that the exercise will teach college kids ingrained in the so-called “hookup culture” the lost art of dating.

Well I’m here to inform that professor that we 20-somethings don’t need help, thank you very much.

It’s true that dating has probably become less common on college campuses since the 1950s—or at least the Archie Comics version of dating where a boy and a girl sip a milkshake together through two straws. Instead college kids have discovered an even better way to find a significant other.

Professor Cronin has three main concerns: college students no longer have the confidence to ask one another out on dates; so they instead resort to group hangouts, which erodes the dating culture; and hookups have supplanted relationships. Let me address these concerns one at a time.

I’ll concede that the number of college kids asking each other out on dates in person has probably dropped significantly. According to a 2012 Pew Research poll, 63 percent of teens exchange texts with their friends every day while only 35 percent engage in face-to-face socializations with those same people outside of school. Asking a boy or girl out via text is safer: the rejection feels less harsh on the screen than in person.

And yet despite the fact that we like to hide behind our screens, we don’t need Cronin’s lesson in “doing something courageous,” as one of Cronin’s student describes it. Two college kids may be much more likely to kiss before one of them ever asks the other out on an actual date. But I would argue that it takes as much—if not more—courage to lean in for the first kiss as it does to ask someone out.

So how do we find these mates to kiss? Often, college kids meet potential love interests hanging out in groups with friends and friends of friends or at parties. I often felt in college that hanging out with someone I liked among friends allowed me to get to know him better than going on a 45-minute date alone ever would. Spending time in extracurriculars or in social situations with a crush always made me feel much more comfortable with him once we actually began to go out and a lot more sure that I wanted to be with him.

Parties, too, felt like a much more natural venue to talk to someone than a crowded Starbucks. Dates can feel contrived, whereas a party feels organic. Being surrounded by people, music and activities gives you something to talk about. Your friends could always help you or bail you out of a bad situation. And of course there’s the liquid courage.

Before addressing the myth of hookup culture, I’ll point out that dating isn’t dead on college campuses. An informal survey of my female friends found that each had been asked out at least one time by a boy she’d never even kissed before in college. These dates, if accepted, succeeded or failed at about the same rate as a random-hookup-turned-consistent-relationship did.

But what is really at the root of my informal dating tutorial is the mass panic about college hookup culture, which is way overblown. Every few months there seems to be a renewed hysteria surrounding Generation X’s inability to commit to relationships, and every few months I endeavor to debunk this hookup culture myth. So here are the facts again:

1. “Hookup culture” refers from anything from kissing to sex

So don’t freak out, parents. “Random hookups” can often mean just kissing.

2. A very small percentage of college kids are participating in this hookup culture

Less than 15 percent of students “hookup”—meaning anything ranging from kissing to sex—more than twice per year.

3. That very small percentage is about the same as the number of people who were having uncommitted sex in past generations

A 1967 study by the Institute for Sex Research found that 68% of college men and 44% of college women reported having engaged in premarital sex—around the same as the 64 percent reported at my alma mater. Another study that compared a survey on sexual practices from 1988-1996 to one from 2004-2012 found that respondents from the later survey did not report more sexual partners, more frequent sex or more partners during the past year than respondents from the earlier survey.

4. Most college students are actually looking for a committed relationship

A study by the American Psychological Association in February 2013 found that 63 percent of college men and 83 percent of college women would prefer a traditional relationship to uncommitted sex.

5. Most students having sex are doing so with one partner consistently

The same study that compared sex practices in the 80s and 90s to now found that 78.2% of those recently surveyed reported that their sexual partner was either a spouse or a significant other, compared to 84.5% in the survey from the ’80s and ’90s.

So yes, some college students will make out with one another at a party—maybe more—and then arrange to see one another again via text message. But many of those encounters result in dates and, eventually, relationships. As Richard McAnulty, an associate professor in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte points out in the Globe article, the majority of college students actually practice “serial monogamy,” in which they have consecutive, exclusive relationships. The dates are still there, they just come later—after college kids are sure they’re interested in someone else and that there’s a possibility of a longer commitment. After all, aren’t dates more enjoyable when they’re with someone you already know that you like and are sexually attracted to?

And besides, there will be plenty of time post-graduation for awkward first dates arranged by mutual friends or a myriad of dating apps (OKCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder and Hinge to name a few). They’ll sit and explain their jobs and their majors and what they like to do for fun. It will be always uncomfortable, sometimes pleasant, occasionally horrifying. But they’ll learn how to date in the way Cronin wants.

For now, college students, enjoy four years of choosing your boyfriends and girlfriends from a group of like-minded peers whose full name and interests you’ll already know by your first date.

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