With tuition costs on the rise, the American Dream can feel like it's slowly slipping through many hopeful high school graduates' fingertips.
In the past three decades alone, college tuition has risen by 1,000 percent. Because of this, more and more students are turning to loans they can't afford to pay back.
Recently, the Center for American Progress released a report breaking down what has contributed to the tuition hike and the trillion dollars we've accumulated in student debt.
Anne Johnson, the director of Campus Progress and one of the authors of the report, tells TakePart, "There's been a perfect storm of sorts that's caused the enormous increase."
She points out that the recession, a reduction in funding at the state level for public colleges and universities, and the increase of for-profit colleges and universities have all contributed to the rise in debt.
Private lenders, she says, are also a major problem.
"What we're seeing in some cases is that for-profit colleges and for-profit lending institutions are marketing their loans toward students and veterans. They're saying, 'Take this loan out,' when those people haven't actually taken out as much money as they can from the federal government."
Federal loans, she says, "are cheaper and have better protections for borrowers." Her advice for families is: "Before you sign loans from a private lender, make sure you are taking out all of the Stafford Loans you can take out, that you've exhausted your Pell Grants, and that you are taking out the best loans for you personally."
The report notes that two-thirds of students who've taken out loans and have graduated with a bachelor's degree owe on average more than $25,000 in loans. One in 10 borrowers owe more than $54,000.
Another way to avoid massive amounts of debt, Johnson says, is to "make sure you are actually taking out the amount of loans you need to pay for school." Private lenders, she explains, will loan directly to students without checking in with the school to see how much money is actually needed for tuition. Often students borrow more than they need.
In fact, from 2005 to 2011, private student loan debt more than doubled from $55.9 billion to $140.2 billion.
When it comes to for-profit colleges, Johnson says, what we all need to remember is "for-profit colleges are 'for-profit.' " The students attending these schools actually have a higher level of debt than students attending two- or four-year not-for-profit institutions.
The question that needs to be asked, she says, is whether higher education is meant "to make money or to educate the next generation of the American workforce?"
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Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com