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"If you told your daughter or son they have $200,000 to get through college, what do you think they'd do?" a father of four asked me the other day. His answer? "They'd go to a junior college for two years and spend about $100,000 on college. And then they'd pocket the rest."

But Christina Kim, the mother of 18-year-old Jonathan, doesn't have that kind of money. She called me to say she was making a tough decision: to postpone college for her son until he has an idea of what he wants to do with his career.

"I just can't afford $40,000 if we don't know what he wants to be," she told me. "I can't risk wasting that money."

It's a reality more and more parents are facing. Parents like Kim want to avoid having their children be among the increasing number of students who now spend an average of six years in college, easily tacking on thousands to costs.

For her, it's doubly painful: "I have self-employed friends who can manage to keep their reported income at $35,000 a year. They're getting to send their kids to Boston University for just $10,000, but I'm not in that boat."

Junior college to keep costs junior size

So Kim is taking a couple of routes that more and more parents are taking. The first is sending her son to a junior college before shelling out more for a traditional four-year college or university.

"We've always been a magnet for students who have no money," says Jane Brofman, the director of marketing for Capital Community College in Hartford, Conn. "But because of the economy, we are definitely seeing an uptick in students who would normally go to the state university or even UConn and can't afford it now. They come for a couple of years and then transfer."

To give you an idea of the savings, a student could attend Capital Community College for two years at a cost of about $7,000. Compare that to the University of Connecticut, which runs about $16,000 for tuition alone. It's like getting the first two years of college for more than 50% off.

By having an agreement with universities in the area, the community college helps ensure that credits are transferrable.

In California, the state university system depends on community college transfers for a large portion of its upper-division enrollment. More than 50% of the California state universities' bachelor's degrees are awarded to community college transfer students. One of the new challenges facing students taking this route is that budget cuts are forcing community colleges, in California and other states, to cut course offerings. So careful planning is needed to ensure students have the credits they need to transfer. In California, students can get the latest information from CCCApply.org.

Summer at your local junior college and relatives

Another move students and parents can make: Take some summer classes at the local junior college. Not only can students save some money on tuition, but it might also help them stay on track to graduate in four years.

Even if students don't go for those summer classes at a junior college, they can save considerably by living with relatives -- easily $10,000 or more. I'll admit from my own experience that the student won't get the dream digs or the college experience he or she had hoped for. But the home-cooked meals and the affordable price can give students the financial freedom needed to take unpaid internships or simply pursue dream careers.

Planning ahead

Finally, Kim is making another move -- turning to technology and pros to provide her son with guidance counseling to help him explore his options.

By employing professional guidance counselors early in the process, parents can help students clarify goals and identify possible career paths in time to make the most from the money, time and resources invested in a college education.