If Renita Burns keeps it up, she'll graduate from Temple University with honors and more than $30,000 of debt, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports.
"I think a lot of don't think about how much we have until we graduate, and then it's like 'Eesh,'" she says.
Who would want to think about it? Burns is a junior, and she has more than $15,000 in federal student loans — an amount that doesn't even come close to covering a year at Temple. Her mom is a teacher, and her dad is a retired cop — so like a lot of students, she's too rich to qualify for most financial aid, yet too poor to pay for college without it.
"It's like a circle, and you're caught in the middle. It sort of feels like you've got to find another way," Burns says.
She did. Burns took out a private loan, the fastest-growing form of student aid. In 2004, lenders provided about $14 billion to students, an increase of more than 700 percent from a decade earlier.
You don't need a master's degree to figure out why so many students are now taking out private loans. Just do the math. In the past five years, tuition at public colleges has increased 57 percent, but the maximum amount students can borrow from the federal loan program hasn't risen a dime — it's stayed at $23,000.
"This has driven students into the private loan market, and now, with the interest rates increasing, we're seeing very high interest rates on those private loans," Bob Shireman says. Shireman runs the Project on Student Debt. He says that more students are going deeper into debt than ever before — and we could all end up paying for it.
"It can affect the ability to buy a home, the timing of the start of a family. It really does have an impact on the American dream," Shireman says.
"It's like, take out these loans or don't go to school. So you just start signing and signing, and I'll look at the damage when I graduate," Burns says.
Students are always told hard work will pay off. Burns just hopes she's not paying off her loans with her Social Security checks.
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