Have parents become too selfish to give up their pleasures on their children's behalf? That's the opinion of many college aid officers. They see an increasing number of students having to rely on student loans rather than parental funds to pay their way through college. When the young people graduate, they have tremendous debts to pay.

A story typical of the attitudes of many parents is tod by John Reeves, financial aid officer of the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science in Syracuse.

He says his department recently put together an aid package for a student requiring no loans but asking the parents to pay $300 a year.The parent told Reeves he had a "better" offer from another school - one that asked no money from the parents but required the student to take a big loan. The parent will save money, but at a great cost to the child.

There are no reliable figures available on the national level of student indebtedness. But aid officers on a number of campuses put the average undersgraduate loan at around $5,000. Graduate students may owe $10,000 or more. Under a new law passed last year, graduate students in health may borrow up to $50,000.

Many parents encourage children to take loans because as students, they can get the loans at 7 per cent interest paid by the government during the years they're in school. The parents promise that after graduation they will take over the student's payments.

Some parents fulfill this promise. But say the loan officers, many others don't. Once the student is working and on his own, he may be embarrassed to ask his parents to pay off the debt. The parents may not bring up the subject.

One aid officer told my associate, Anne Colamoscat: "Many parents have come to believe that sacrifice is old-fashioned. It's every man for himself." Ruby Santo of Fordham University in New York City where some 90 per cent of the under-graduates have student loans, says, "Many parents are no longer willing to give up three weeks' vacation or a dinner out for their children's education."

Other aid officers aren't as hard on parents, Richard Biondi, past president of the New York State Financial Aid Association, says: "I just don't think most parents I run across are being irresponsible. They just can't meet all their expenses."

At age 18 or 19, middle-class youngsters have little understanding of how hard it can be to repay $5,000, especially on annual salaries of $8,000 or so that they'll likely have whe they first start working. So they're willing to take big loans for fancy colleges, rather than go to a less expensive school. Students from poorer families, by contrast, are less willing to go into hock, aid officers say.

The full import of what they're done hits students after graduation. The young couple today may start out with $10,000 in debts, which makes it hard to start families, buy a house, or treat themselves to consumer pleasures.

Charles Zuver, of the American Bankers Association, says many bankers are finding that they can't give mortgages to couples in their mid to late twenties, because they still have too much to repay on student loans. The burden of being in debt too soon will probably affect this generation's happiness and way of life for years to come.