With my eldest daughter winding down her second year of college, I have the privilege - as I'm sure many other parents do - of having co-signed for her student loans.

I'm hoping that she lands a decent job upon her graduation, whereupon she will almost immediately receive a paper or email payment book from the bank. If all goes well and we have far better luck than the time I lent money to my brother-in-law (twice) and my sister-in-law (once), she'll send off the obligatory check each month.

It's either that, or my wife and I enjoy our golden retirement years not in a Gulf Coast condo, but in a basement apartment sharing TV dinners and jugs of wine with twist-off caps.

I mention this exercise in financial trepidation only because I came across a survey from Country Financial that sort of hit my sweet spot, or more accurately, my "sweat" spot, whereupon four in five Americans believe the average level of student loan debt is too high to justify going to college.

While the latest statistics from the Department of Education put the average student loan debt at roughly $29,000 (in full disclosure ours is somewhat above that), fueled by a steady rise in tuition rates - particularly at public institutions and universities, no doubt to help erase widening budget deficits - more than one-quarter of the 3,000 people polled deemed a college education not the stellar investment it once was. That's about 7 points higher than the 2010 survey.

In fact, since 2008, the percentage of people who categorize a college education as a good investment has dropped noticeably - from 81 percent to 58 percent.

Nearly half of those surveyed said it was more important to save for their own retirement than to invest in a child's college education - which is what nearly every financial planner will tell you - a three-point rise from 2010 and four points up from the 2009 results.

You can debate crushing debt figures all you want, but that neither will solve the problem of rising student debt nor devalue the importance of a college degree, particularly amid the cutthroat competition that exists with a global economy.

At this juncture only the most ardent optimist could or would expect help from Washington anytime soon -after all, there's this whole debt ceiling thing going on - so perhaps the solution lies in charting a different, and more economical course, such as enrolling in a junior college for two years and then if eligible,  transferring to a four-year institution.

You would also be amazed at how many untold millions are available via  under-publicized scholarships I know I was, and quickly had my children researching a number of those avenues at the local library.

But the way I see it, student loans should not be an excuse. You can either pay now or your children will most assuredly pay later.



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