SCARBOROUGH — Parents of college-bound children go through a wave of emotions. When my daughter was accepted a few years ago by the University of Chicago, her first choice for college, I was so proud and thrilled for her. That excitement quickly turned to worry when I learned that tuition, room and board was $68,000 a year. As a top-caliber private institution, the University of Chicago charges quite a bit of money to attend.

Fortunately, the financial package offered by the university was pretty good. She graduated, and thanks to the strength of her degree, she now has a decent job as a manuscript editor.

She is fortunate. However, by the time my daughter graduated after four years, she owed $21,000, and I owed $31,000 on her student loan debt.

Student loan debt isn’t just affecting our kids as they try to get into the workforce; it’s also affecting their parents, who are trying to get out of the workforce.

While I look wistfully toward retirement, I am also looking at the reality of eight years of payments on a parent PLUS (Parent Loan for Under Graduate Students) loan – at $500 a month. The PLUS is wickedly easy to get, and the interest rate, at 7 percent or 8 percent, is outrageous, especially when you consider that mortgage interest rates are about half that amount.

It cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, no matter how insolvent one may become because of factors such as late-life job loss or health issues. The only way out, other than to pay it off, is to die. That’s right. One must die to be released.

Student loans for parents are a little-discussed drag on our economy. Students are stuck with debt, and so are their parents – neither are able to move forward with future plans and goals while saddled with the loans. Graduates in Maine leave college with an average of $29,352 in loan debt, according to “A Mountain of Debt,” a report by the Alliance for a Just Society.

For the sake of our economy, for the sake of our families, it’s time our legislators start reinvesting in higher education in this state. It’s disappointing when our high school graduates don’t go to college because they can’t afford it. It’s just as troubling when college graduates can’t afford a future because of their debt.

As a Realtor, I see the impact of high student loan debt on the housing market. College graduates hoping to buy their first homes are locked out because of high student loan debt. Even a $300-a-month student loan impacts their ability to buy a house. Lenders have told me that many potential first-time homebuyers would qualify for a loan, if they just didn’t have so much student debt.

What we lose sight of is that student loan debt is a burden to their parents – who delay retirement or other purchases themselves to instead pay off student loans. I, for one, was counseled to place my little extra money into funding my retirement rather than fund college savings programs. After all, retirement lasts longer than college. We all want to help our children with college, but who is really profiting? The banks.

I’ll grant you it was a long time ago that I was in college, but in 1977, tuition was affordable. Most of us easily covered our tuition and books by working a summer job. Today, University of Maine students have to work full time year-round to cover annual tuition and fees of almost $10,000. Room, board and books easily add another $12,000.

In the last six years, Maine has cut per-student public college funding by more than 13 percent, leaving students and their parents to fill the gap – usually by taking out loans. We have an opportunity to try some creative solutions.

The tuition freeze is a good start. A tuition-free sophomore year would be a great next step, giving students and their parents a break from the financial pressure. Fully funding our university system as an investment in Maine’s future would be a help, too.

It’s time for Maine to step up and reinvest in our public colleges and universities – for our kids, their parents and our economy. Let’s do the right thing for Maine’s future.