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Student Debt Rising as College Costs Continue to Climb

December 8, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, a two-part look at the growing costs of higher education. Tonight, student debt and its consequences. Our report is by the NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow.

JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent: About 60 percent of students at four-year colleges go to public institutions like this one, the University of Massachusetts, Boston. These colleges are relatively inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap.

How many of you, when you graduate, will owe money? Wow, almost everyone.

How much will you owe?

STUDENT: $25,000.

STUDENT: $30,000.

STUDENT: $40,000.

JOHN MERROW: $40,000?

STUDENT: Yes, $40,000.

STUDENT: $55,000.

STUDENT: About $65,000.

JOHN MERROW: UMass Boston isn’t unique. You would hear similar answers on just about every college campus in America. I heard them 22 years ago when I reported on this same issue for what was then called the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour.

But it’s not just deja vu all over again. It’s worse.

College costs have been climbing for years. Since the early ’80s, tuition and fees have grown 375 percent, almost three times more than median family income. The average public college now costs about $14,000 per year, and private colleges are approaching $35,000.