U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has got to be kidding himself if he thinks it’s a good idea for families to take more money out of their retirement savings to pay for college tuition.

Paul, a strong advocate of a balanced budget, says it’s important that Republicans propose an alternative to Democrats’ ideas of free public university tuition or free community college.

He introduced legislation this week that would allow individuals to take up to $5,250 from their 401(k) or IRA account, without penalty or taxes, for college tuition or for student loan repayments. Parents of college students could take out much more from their retirement accounts.

The student debt problem is huge: $1.5 trillion is owed, twice as much as a decade ago. Paul may be right that free college isn’t the answer, but neither is raiding a retirement account to pay for something that is far from an emergency.

After all, money removed from a retirement account is money that won’t be there in the future — when a worker is retired and needs the income. Many Republicans like Paul always complain that the government ignores long-term issues to address immediate needs, but that’s exactly what his proposal would do.

There are two problems with student loan debt: How to help those who already have too much of it make the payments; and how to prevent future college students from getting into the same fix.

There are no easy answers, but students and families simply must start applying a dose of reality to a college education and refuse to over-borrow. If this means working for two years to save money for college or attending a less-expensive school, so be it. Either option is far better than the average student-loan debt of $29,200 carried by the Class of 2019.

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