Many parents have misconceptions when it comes to saving for college, creating an opportunity for financial advisors to play an important role, according to the second annual study of college savings conducted by The Hartford Financial Services Group.

   Ever-rising college costs now average $22,218 annually for a private school and $5,836 for a public school. Although many of the surveyed parents acknowledge the need to save for college, 70% of those who have started saving are not using a 529 savings plan with its tax advantages and contribution targets. The findings of the survey, which interviewed 2,549 parents in households with children ages 15 and under, suggest that 529 plans remain a well-kept secret among the general public.

   The study also shows that 43% of the parents surveyed have not started saving at all because they feel they need a large lump sum to begin effectively; it takes only a small amount to start most 529 savings plans.

   At the same time, 21% feel saving for their retirement is a higher priority, or they think the children will win scholarships or obtain loans to cover the costs. Scholarships amounted to an average of $5,600 for the 62% of students who received assistance in 2003-2004, while the average college student graduated with $20,000 in debt in 2004, the latest data available.

   The survey found that 45% of parents working with a financial professional participate in a 529 plan versus just 26% who don't work with a financial professional.

   The Hartford, based in Simsbury, Conn., has started a Save Smarter campaign to encourage college savings.