Parents need to discuss college financing with their children and be honest about how much they can afford to pay. It's not right to let your child believe that you can afford his or her dream college. A child should be a partner in his or her future, not a spectator.

You make a couple of key points. First, that parents should have this discussion before their kids apply to college. Second, that paying for college is a partnership, which implies that each partner should take on a reasonable part of the burden.

Children need to know exactly how much of the responsibility will fall on their shoulders. And I think parents do have an obligation to contribute to their kids' education — financially, if possible, or by lending a hand in other ways (see the letters below).

I have a daughter who is a full-time sophomore in college, bringing home A's and B's and living at home. She is on a full scholarship and has a job to pay for her car and insurance. My wife thinks she should also pay rent. I disagree. Your thoughts, please.

I'm with you. I'd say your daughter is already doing her share to cover her college expenses. Considering how much money she's saving all of you, you're getting off easy by providing room and board. And give her a big hug, too.

My daughter is planning to go to college next fall. She currently is an intern at Caterpillar, and I think the company will offer her a job. The company has a tuition-assistance program, so she could have a debt-free education here. But she wants out of our small town in Illinois so badly that she's looking at schools near Chicago that will cost $30,000 to $40,000 per year.

Logically, my advice would be to go to a local community college for two years and then move on to a four-year school. But I'm afraid that in her desperation to get out, she's going to hurt herself financially. Do you have any advice to give her?

I'd advise her to listen to her mother, or to me as a neutral third party: When it comes to paying for your education, you can't beat free money.

It's tough for 18-year-olds to realize how much of an effect taking on too much debt can have on their lives later on. Learning about some real-life experiences might help. And have her talk to the benefits people at Caterpillar. They may be able to get through when Mom can't.


Janet Bodnar is deputy editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of "Raising Money Smart Kids" (Kaplan, $17.95). Send your questions and comments to [email protected]