For 50 years, professional advisors have been telling clients a consistent story about planning for college. It emphasizes the value higher education adds to a young person's life, along with the belief that parents can make a difference in meeting college costs. It is based on positive values including upwardly mobility, personal motivation, thrift, and investing in the future.

However, times are changing. The nation's mood is shifting with financial realities and personal priorities. Getting into and through college, at any cost, is no longer America's holy grail.

A new perspective is emerging that I call the college cost-benefit calculus. It helps to put a college education and its enormous cost in perspective of a household's overall financial situation, including the debts parents or students may owe for years to come.

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