Betsy Hart

For this year's college graduates the commencement speeches may be over but typically the enslavement to debt has just begun.

New grads and their parents are being strapped by staggering debt, sometimes owing six figures or more for a bachelor's degree. Listen to any parent of even young children, and you'll find the term "college" and "panic" often used in the same sentence.

But David Briggs, head of the Good Sense Stewardship Ministry at the internationally respected Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., says that such debt -- and fear -- isn't necessary. He argues that parents need to face the fact that steep college loans can significantly limit future opportunities due to staggering loan repayments. It can strap parents as they head into their empty nest years, or keep the new graduate from pursuing his (less lucrative) professional or other life's passions, including graduate school.

Briggs was an executive at General Electric for 27 years before going to Willow Creek where he teaches on principles of money management. At GE, Briggs frequently hired new college graduates for future management positions. I recently interviewed him for my radio show "It Takes a Parent."

Briggs likes to talk about the myths of kids and college:

Myth No. 1 -- Elite colleges will give a child a leg up on his professional life, so going into massive debt to get into one is justified.

Reality: For some rarefied kids going into rarefied fields, the first part of that equation might be true. And if the parents can afford it and want to pay for it, Briggs says fine. But 95 percent of kids just need a college degree. Period. (Which will dramatically increase life time earnings potential.) Briggs said that at GE, he and his colleagues routinely rejected the kids from the "elite" colleges who often had a sense of entitlement or lacked a work ethic, while hiring kids from "average" schools who went on to have very successful careers.

Myth No. 2 -- Parents have to give their kids the choice of any college in the country that accepts them, even if the parents can't afford it without going into massive debt.

Reality: a 17-year-old rarely has the foresight or life's experience to choose the school that's best for him, or rightly consider money issues This may be where mom and dad have to (gasp!) steer and even limit the decision making process.

Myth No. 3 -- There's only one path to a college degree: the four or five year "away" option.


Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.