Makala Malkovich is a freshman at the University of Utah. That's far enough away from her home in Spanish Fork that her mother, Kari, hopes Makala will learn how to be independent, how to live on her own. "But it's close enough that we can still be her support system."

The Malkoviches prepared a long time for the day they sent their first child off to college. "We know it will be an adjustment," Kari Malkovich said. "There are so many dynamics involved in changing her life this way. She had to learn about housing, meal tickets. We had her prepare her own budget. It was quite overwhelming to look at how much is involved."Mom attended orientation sessions at the U. with Makala and appreciated all the information they received. "I was surprised more parents weren't there, only about 15 or 20 for the 200 or so kids. They had a session just for parents about living on campus that was very helpful," Kari Malkovich said.

Although Makela has a scholarship, there are a lot of other expenses in attending college. "We've talked about how she needs to live within her means and not get into debt," her mother said.

They have talked, too, about values. "She's going into a new environment both academically and socially. We think she's well-grounded and will think wisely," Kari Malkovich said.

Still, a parent worries about these things.

And that's only natural, says Richard M. Flaherty, president of a national organization called College Parents of America, a support/advocacy group designed to help parents send their kids off to college easily, economically and safely.

"College is a huge time of change," Flaherty said. "Children are taking another step in their development. There will be pangs of separation; that's natural. It's an opportunity for students to become more independent, but at the same time parents need to be in the background, offering advice and support."

A lot of factors are involved in being a supportive parent of a college student, Flaherty says. You have to learn when to be there and when to let go. You need to be tuned into finances - everything from college budgets to use of credit cards to applying for scholarships and grants. You need to be aware of the social atmosphere on campus and help your child avoid some of the pitfalls and problems.

Founded in 1996, and with a parental and institutional membership of 200,000, College Parents of America is becoming a leading voice in looking out for interests of parents of college students. It is active on Capitol Hill, Flaherty says, as a lobbyist in matters pertaining to college costs and education budgets.

It has partnered with a number of groups and agencies to provide information on such things as avoiding scholarship scams, saving and investing for college, college loans, traveling during spring break and other topics.

(For more information about the organization, call 1-800-535-5828 or visit the Web site at www.collegeparents.com. A year's membership is $25.)

One primary issue for College Parents is curbing alcohol abuse on the nation's college campuses. "We've all seen and heard horror stories about the outcome of excessive drinking on campus," Flaherty said. "There was an MIT student who died from alcohol poisoning after downing 16 drinks, one after another. Then there was the case of a University of Virginia student killed in a fire during an off-campus party."

In fact, last year, seven students died from binge drinking on college campuses. College presidents themselves, Flaherty says, have declared binge drinking to be a threat to higher education.

College Parents is negotiating with insurance companies to develop incentives for students who take pledges against binge drinking. "But we also need to enlist parents. We need to get parents to talk with their students about the hazards of alcohol abuse."

Parents also need to make clear what their expectations are about studying, Flaherty says. "They need to talk about the fact that college is a major investment, and they expect their students to get the most out of it. That doesn't mean you need to exclude the social aspects of college; those are important, too. But the fact is, those who spend their time studying have less time for frivolous drinking."

Another important thing parents can do for their students is encourage them to get involved in community service and volunteer work on campus. This not only helps them connect with the college and feel more a part of things, it also gives students a chance to get outside themselves, to focus on others. And that, in turn, can give them perspective on the opportunities they enjoy.

College can be a time of rich experience, creative challenge and opportunity - for both parents and students. And, if all else fails, Flaherty says, parents need to keep their sense of humor. When:

- that surprise package your child brought home is really full of laundry,

- your student has a calling card, but no phone; and a credit card but no job.