Student loan debt rising among Americans

CHICAGO - Diana Berkovits owes Columbia University a lot. She got a good education, made important professional contacts and ran up a student loan debt there and at Ithaca College that will keep her in hock for at least 20 years, CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports.

"What I realize now is that when I was 18 I had no concept of what it would mean to go to a school that cost more and what I would end up paying when I graduated," Berkovits said.

Her $80,000 in loans from her undergraduate and graduate school days are on the high end of the red ink, but student loan debt in this country is now greater than credit card debt.

Cayce Rasmussen is a senior at the University of Illinois who's afraid to even calculate what she owes.

"Probably going to have to work a job that I don't necessarily want to," Rasmussen said.

And that's not all.

"It can affect a lot of choices, like when to buy a home or whether to buy a home, getting married, having kids, saving for retirement and saving for their own kids' education," said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

There's no question that a lot of students are racking up large amounts of debt. But many economists call that good debt.

They liken it to a smart investment.

"You expect that it will pay off over many years and borrowing money to go to college is like borrowing money to start a business," said Sandy Baum, an education policy analyst.

"You're going to have a much higher lifetime income if you borrow and go to school and repay those loans than if you stop your education after high school," said Baum.

The numbers don't lie.

In 2008, the median earnings of a bachelor's degree recipient were almost $22,000 more per year than a high-school graduate. And lifetime - college grads earn 65 percent more than high school grads.

So, yes, the debt can be imposing. But remember, Barack and Michelle Obama were once $120,000 in debt from school loans.

And they did pretty well.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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