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By Dan Boylan

Sometimes lost in the myriad of news stories lamenting the rise in college student debt is how good ol’ mom and dad can play a helpful role that has nothing to do with their income.

Across the country, parents are stunned by the amount of debt students are amassing (average: $33,000) before they earn that diploma.

At the same time, many of these same young people are using their credit cards (average: four cards and $5,000) to finance their short-term needs.

The combination of both types of debt creates an impending financial disaster.

Many students are either dropping out of school, losing focus on their education or not participating in vital university activities such as networking, the general campus life and student-run clubs that can be important to future job opportunities.

Given the $30,000 threshold at which students lose focus on education and the combined debt load of students at $38,000, this means students typically stop making school their top priority somewhere in their junior year.

The junior and senior years are important – when students should focus on their majors rather than core courses. Those years are also an important time for students to become heavily involved in on-campus clubs, programs and other extracurricular experiences that prepare them for life after college.

Such dire news accounts serve as a warning to parents: help your children manage their money or face those dreaded “need money” phone calls, emails and texts for years to come.

Many parents cannot afford to help fund a student’s education, but that doesn’t mean they cannot help the student financially. By being an active participant in a student’s funding of education (going over award letters, loans and other funding choices and talking about personal finance), a parent can help a student be more accountable, and, as a result, student debt is lowered.

Parents can start this education process years before enrolling their children by learning college lingo. Once mom and dad learn how colleges operate, they are better consumers and can help their youngsters navigate the educational funding process.

Let’s face it: being a college student is tough enough with all the tests, studying, papers and late-night activities mixed in.

Most 18- to 22-year-olds have little to no experience in being a good money manager. That is where an active parent will help set direction for the student by becoming an accountable partner while creating a self-reliant young adult.

Dan Boylan is a finance instructor in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.