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Despite Rising Costs, Most Doctors Would Pay for Their Children’s College

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

The vast majority of clinicians (86%) say they have paid or would pay for their children's undergraduate education, according to a Doximity poll.

With the longstanding pause on student loan payment scheduled to lift in October, the poll findings may come as a relief to aspiring and former students whose parents work in medicine. 

Among the 5,803 clinicians who responded to the poll, 88% of physicians say they have paid or would pay for their children’s college education, followed by 81% of pharmacists, 79% of NPs, and 70% of PAs. 

The findings underscore clinicians’ willingness to support their children’s college education, despite lagging pay and rising college costs over the past several decades. The Education Data Initiative reported a 130% increase in average tuition and fee rates at four-year colleges since 1990, after adjusting for inflation.

Overall, a higher percentage of older than younger clinicians are willing to cover the cost of their children’s college tuition, according to the poll. Only 73% of clinicians in their 30s are willing to pay, compared with 81% in their 40s, 91% in their 50s, 93% in their 60s, and 92% in their 70s. 

One factor that may account for this difference is that physicians in their 30s and even 40s may be farther away than their older colleagues from having a college-aged child. Another may be that older clinicians have had more time to earn income and grow their finances.

Surgeons — often on the upper end of physician compensation — are also more likely to say they would pay for their children’s college education: 90% of surgeons and 89% of nonsurgical specialists would, compared with 84% of primary care physicians. 

Some clinicians, including poll respondents, have emphasized their preference to ensure that their children have some “skin in the game” — opting to pay for only part or none of their children’s college tuition. Still, the majority of clinicians seem intent on financially supporting their children through college, regardless of the cost. 

“I paid for my son’s college and medical school, and both daughters’ college and law school and business school,” said Isaac Bartley, MD, a gastroenterologist in California. “It wasn’t easy but that was money well spent. I also paid for my niece’s college and medical school. Also money well spent.”

In order to raise the necessary funds, clinician parents have employed a wide range of strategies over the years, from using tax-advantaged education accounts such as a 529 to leveraging investments and real estate.

For James Ulery Jr., MD, a dermatologist in Michigan, early 529 contributions have helped his family prepare for the cost of sending his triplets to college this fall. 

“Beginning a 529 plan at birth has allowed tremendous growth of my original contributions for my triplets, enough so that both college and graduate school should be covered,” Dr. Ulery said. “I have already been using the 529 for computers, tuition deposits, and housing fees. Having a state tax deduction and low expense profile for the plan was a bonus.”

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