Four in five Americans believe the average level of student loan debt is too high to justify going to college, according to a new survey.

The survey, by Country Financial, found Americans growing increasingly wary of student loan debts and the value of college as a financial investment. Eighty-one percent of the survey respondents said that the average level of student loan debt, pegged at $29,000 for 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education, is just too much to justify the expense.

Steep tuition hikes are contributing to doubts about the financial value of attending college, especially with many states jacking up tuition at public colleges and universities to help cope with budget deficits. Twenty-six percent of the 3,000 Americans surveyed said that given the rising costs, a college education is just not a good investment, up seven percentage points from 2010. Country Financial said that was the greatest number of people who felt this way in the survey’s four-year history. Since 2008, the proportion of people who believe college is a good investment has dropped from 81 percent to 58 percent.

A 78 percent majority said children should work at a part-time job to help pay for college. Nearly half of those surveyed (46 percent) said it was more important to save for their own retirement than to invest in a child's college education, up three points from 2010 and four points from 2009.

The Gen Y adults aged 18-29 who were surveyed said they actually expect to assume a greater burden of paying for a college education than people in previous generations had to pay. They were more likely than older adults to say that saving for a child’s education (66 percent) was more important than saving for retirement (18 percent), while other age groups said the opposite. Just 58 percent of the Gen Y respondents said that children should get a part-time job to help pay for some college costs, at least 20 points lower than any other age group.

Only 23 percent of the Gen Y respondents said their parents should pay the entire bill for a child’s college education. That was two percentage points higher than in 2010 and at least eight points higher than other age groups.

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