I hear variations of this question over and over. That’s really not the right question. Some of our most successful captains of industry do not have college degrees. The question should be how to nurture curiosity and love of learning. If a child has these qualities, they will be successful in life with or without a college degree.
If parents “intend” their children take the college route, the financial planning should begin no later than the day they are born. Creating that love of learning requires them to read – a lot. Read to the child even before they begin to talk. Get them hooked on stories that they find fascinating. They will let you know which stories they like a lot sooner than you imagine. Do this until they begin to recognize words on a page. At that point, you should have them begin to read to you. Your reading is likely to take place at bedtime. Their reading should coincide with the time they will be doing homework while school is in session. The reading habit will morph into study time and back again with the school year. Reading also expands vocabulary as well as imagination. Make sure they always have plenty of reading materials whether it is the Wall Street Journal or comic books. Whatever they like, load them up with it.
When the child moves from junior high to high school, all their grades, activities and test scores will be carefully recorded for use by colleges or future employers to evaluate their ability to handle the work in front of them. High school is the proving ground for young adults. If they do well here, the transition to college or the job market will be smooth and seamless. There are lots of details that will help or hinder specific plans, but being well read, curious and having good study habits will make the road much easier for everyone involved.