There's nothing like watching your kids grow up. But looking at the challenges your kids face at school is guaranteed to make you feel old.

If you ask your parents or grandparents, you'll get a much different picture of what it was like for them when they went back to school. They'll tell tales of a time when college tuition and room and board amounted to just hundreds of dollars each year. Sure, many of them worked hard during summers and throughout the school year to make ends meet, but the idea of taking out loans for 10 to 30 years to pay for education was completely foreign.

Heck, I graduated from college less than 20 years ago, and I'm shocked at how much things have changed since then.

Brave new world
Students have opportunities that were largely unavailable to their equals in previous generations, but they also have to deal with responsibilities unknown in the past. Nowadays, kids can take on financial obligations such as credit card payments and monthly phone bills while they're still in high school. Yet despite some efforts to make financial literacy part of every student's education, many kids lack the skills they need to manage their money intelligently.

Moreover, these opportunities come with a price. High school graduates face college bills that are beginning to approach $200,000 -- not including advanced degrees. Six-figure debt is a way of life at many colleges and universities. While the economic benefits of higher education give most graduates the ability to pay off those debts, loans nevertheless make it impossible for young adults to make career decisions without taking finances into account.

Meanwhile, education has become a big business. SLM (NYSE:SLM) is a huge provider of student-loan financing. Traditional banks such as Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) find that student loans are a particularly profitable part of their business, because in many cases, the federal government guarantees them. So even if kids don't repay their loans, financial institutions don't have to worry about lost profits.

What you need to know
To make sure you and your kids navigate these difficult waters of planning for school without running your financial ship aground, we've got some advice for kids and parents alike, as well as students of all ages. Here are the topics our contributors have chosen to write about.

Read on, and best of luck to you and your kids in this back-to-school season!

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger thinks about going back to school every once in a while, despite having spent a majority of his years in classrooms. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Bank of America is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is an educational experience.