An increasing number of Americans are facing a mountain of college loan debt with no diploma to show for it.

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Studies have shown reliance on college loans is growing, but students may not realize they're on the hook for what they borrowed whether they reach the finish line or not.

Leslie Beck of Compass Wealth Management in Maplewood said parents can help stem the problem by getting their children significantly involved in the college decision-making process.

"You need to start having these conversations with your children certainly beginning in their freshman year of high school," Beck said. "Let them know that this is a serious decision that's going to be coming up."

Would-be college students may not want to base their choice on which campus looks nicer, but which institution makes the most financial sense and offers the best shot at a career.

"You have to look at the best-case scenario - that you're graduating with a degree on time and getting your dream job - and the worst-case scenario," Beck added.

Unfortunately, Beck noted, college students may not get the best advice from counselors, as schools are in the business of making money.

For folks already fearing they can't keep up with loan repayments, Beck advises they research all the different payment options available before it's too late.