Tuition freedom

IT was the kind of party thousands of American parents could relate to. A festivity, the invitation said, ``to celebrate the end of 23 years of tuition payments'' to private schools and colleges. Family, friends, and summer warmth attended. So did 40 pounds of hamburger, three charcoal grills, and a musical combo that floated jazz and swing over a suburban neighborhood that had never seen anything like it.

June begins the outdoor party season. At another function, for example, the Bob Josephs partied in New York -- 34 people named Bob Joseph, in fact. And their families.

Across the United States calendars are dotted with family reunions, albeit with greater variety in names. Sometimes barbecues are less exclusive than even the hosts have anticipated. We know one woman who invited her three cousins for a placid little family gathering and wound up with a transcontinental bus in her front yard and an undulating backyard of teen-age girls. She'd discovered too late that one of the cousins was touring the East Coast in the company of 42 Girl Scouts.

Invitees at the tuition party had less dramatic impact. But they all had the same question: ``What are you going to do with all your money now?''

The keeper of the family exchequer sighed. ``Start paying it back,'' he said, to the banks whose loans made all those tuition payments possible. In households across America graduated students may no longer be accountable to college deans, but a lot of them, and their parents, remain temporarily obligated to bursars or banks.

Still, parents spend the money because they see the benefits. ``Of course it was worth it,'' said the veteran of 23 payment years, waving toward his children nearby: a lawyer, an insurance adjuster, and a financial analyst.

It's a view with which every parent would agree.

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