Nightly News   |  October 26, 2011

Outstanding student debt to pass $1 trillion

College costs continue to soar across the country, and the average member of the class of 2012 will have more than $24,000 in student loan debt. NBC’s John Yang reports from Chicago.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Of all the time bombs in the American economy set to explode with dire consequences, this is a big one, staggering debt from student loans . Everyone is told a college education is a way to get ahead. College tuitions , though, keep going up. So does the borrowing. And we just hit an awful milestone. Our nation's combined student loan debt has now hit $1 trillion. That averages out to 24,000 per student. It's now larger than credit card debt in this country, and it comes just as an entire generation is just starting out. Today the president suggested one fix. More on that in a moment, but we have two reports to start out with tonight, beginning with NBC 's John Yang in Chicago .

Unidentified Woman #1: Nicole Brown with honors.

JOHN YANG reporting: For millions of college students, the joy of graduation is quickly followed by dread. A new life with old debts. University of Illinois at Chicago senior Andrea Watson will owe about $40,000 in student loans .

Ms. ANDREA WATSON: Mm-hmm. It's very scary to know that before I even get that first real career job, I'm just going to have thousands of thousands of dollars over my head.

YANG: In a new report out today, the College Board , which runs the SATs , says tuition and fees at four-year private colleges are up 4.4 percent from last year to an average of $28,500, and up 8.3 percent at public schools to more than $8200.

Unidentified Woman #2: I'm the one-hand band.

YANG: With first jobs hard to find and starting salaries falling, frustration is turning to anger.

Unidentified Man #1: What kind of 18-year-old teenager is going to have that kind of money?

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm angry.

Unidentified Man #2: College is a gigantic scam, a scam to get your money.

YANG: It's expressed in a series of YouTube videos and at protests across the country sparked by Occupy Wall Street .

Mr. TIM WHELDON: I'm in -- constantly in deferment.

YANG: Protester Tim Wheldon graduated from Michigan State University with an economics degree and $20,000 in debt.

Mr. WHELDON: What's the point of going to school if, A, you can't get a job, B, you can't pay back your student loans ?

YANG: Analysts say the heavy burden of student debt is a drag on the broader economy. Recent graduates struggling to pay off loans are less likely to take major steps like getting married and buying a house. Still, experts say it's worth the financial pain.

Ms. LAUREN ASHER (Institute for College Access and Success): College is still the best investment you can make in your future and our economy needs more people to go to college.

Ms. WATSON: I don't want to be like my friends who are still living at home, working at like Walmart or Kmart and can't pay off their student loans .

YANG: The new reality for college graduates who find themselves paying the price of an education in more ways than one. John Yang , NBC News, Chicago .