Right now the average annual cost at an Illinois public university is about $12,000. A private college will cost you roughly $30,000. College costs have risen exponentially over the last decade and wages have not kept pace. That gap means one thing: student loans.
A college education is increasingly valuable in today's world and it's got the price tag to prove it.
"It really doesn't hit you, the money, until you get that first bill in the mail and you're like oh my god, where is this money going to come from??" says Rockford College Sophomore, Aubrey Konrath.
For the besieged middle class, more and more college funding must come from student loans.
"Grants have not really been keeping pace with the cost of education, so loans have increasingly filled that gap," says Sallie Mae's Senior Vice President, Allison Smythe.
Let's say a year of college is going to cost you $30,000. The maximum federal grant you can get is around $4,000. The maximum state grant is the same.
Your family then contributes say $12,000. That leaves $10,000 to pay and without a scholarship, that means loans.
The federal student loan maximum is $2600, leaving $7400 you've got to borrow in private loans, where interest rates are much higher.
"Over the years, the interest has added up and now it's up to $100,000," says Southern Illinois University graduate Kim Braman.
That's double the debt she started with when she graduated ten years ago. She's moved on with her life, but a heavy burden appears over her every month, when she gets the bill for her college days.
"Right now they're asking for more than our monthly income, and we've got, you know, two children still at home here, we've got house payments. You know, we're kind of stuck," says Braman.
Braman has had to defer and temporarily stop payments several times. In the end, these actions have made it even harder for her to wash away her debt to the federal government. Congress is now stepping in to try to prevent this kind of scenario.
"The house passed a bill that, will for middle-class and low-income students, cut the interest rate from about 61/2% to about 31/2% over the next 5 years," says Illinois Representative Don Manzullo.
The senate still has to approve the law and that could take awhile. In the meantime, current Rockford College student Aubrey Konrath is saving as much as she can to pay her tab when she graduates.
She works two jobs and says it's hard to fit in enough time to study. Still, she sees a silver lining.
"It kind of makes eduation more meaningful. It makes you want to study for that test a little more because you're paying for it!"
Now is the time to file for financial aid for next year, Allison Smythe of Sallie Mae says, remember to borrow as little as possible. Exhaust all grant and scholarship options first and if you must borrow, try to stick with federal loans.
A financial aid representative at Northern Illinois University says public school costs have risen as the state has invested less in them.
He and a representative from Rockford College both say they offer intensive guidance all along the student loan process. In particular, they work to find scholarships for every student, no matter how small.
Head to www.salliemae.com, www.brightstartsavings.com, www.upromise.com, or http://www.collegeillinois.com/en/index.asp for more information on loans, financial aid and how to start saving for college.