Currently, roughly 37 million Americans have outstanding loan debt totaling more than $1 trillion, and today, when most students graduate, the debt they'll owe on their college education will far out weigh any car loan or credit card they might have.
"There's no doubt that the cost of college has increased as the cost of delivering a quality education has increased," said Dr. Suzanne McCray, dean of admissions and vice provost for enrollment at the University of Arkansas.
"Universities are scrambling to find ways to keep costs affordable while still providing educational quality that students have come to expect," said McCray. "We just can't figure out how to provide what we need to provide without some tuition increase."
"We've raised $7 million for Access Arkansas, in order to get students who are low income additional moneys."
John Brown University (JBU), a private institution in Siloam Springs, is constantly searching for ways to help students out financially, according to Kim Hadley, vice president of finance and administration at JBU.
"We're the first institution in the state to be zero landfill, and we actually looked at that as a sustainability, not only in taking care of the earth, but it's actually saving us money," said Hadley. "All in, we actually generated a net $17,000, so we're looking at everything in terms of how to save money, from very, very small things, all the way up to energy costs."
"We're looking at how we can save costs across the board in our cost structure, as we raise endowed scholarships to help students on their revenue side."
Two-year schools, such as Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) in Bentonville, are feeling the pressure to keep costs low as well.
"Well, we're always looking at what we can do to help our students be able to afford to come to college and others to be able to attend college," adds Steven Hinds, executive director of public relations at NWACC. "So, for instance, this year we did not have a tuition increase."
But that's not an easy thing to do, according to Hinds, especially when state support has continued to decrease over the last few years.
"We have had marginal increases over the last few years, as other have, and part of that is attributable to the fact that we only receive such low funding from the state."
Despite the problems universities and colleges are having, the average student loan debt in Arkansas still remains well below the national average. But the rapid rate of growth nationally, is still affecting graduates in the Natural State as Mark Foster with Credit Counseling of Arkansas points out.
"We are seeing an increase in people coming to us owing more than they ever have in monthly student loan costs," said Foster, who sees up to $500 a month in some cases.
Brandon Augustine, a 2012 graduate, doesn't pay any college loans. But it's not because he doesn't have any.
"Making just the minimum payments on my student loans right now would be about $340 a month," said Augustine. "And that's not counting the $500 a month my parents are paying for their loans they took out while I was in college, too."
Deferment is one option for struggling grads, but for only so long. Eventually you're forced pay, which can be a bit of a problem if you don't have the money, says Augustine.
"I was pretty much making the choice between paying my bills and paying my loans."
Consider this, the student loan delinquency rate has jumped 22% from 12.1% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2010, according to a recent FICO report. It's easy to see why with 48% of the 25-34 year-old age group unemployed or under-employed.
"Students are moving back in with their families because they can't afford a place of there own, or they're delaying marriage or having children because of all these costs," says Foster.
Educators, echoing the sentiment of Hinds, say additional support from the state would go a long way in keeping tuition down, but local lawmakers, like State Representative James McLean, a Democrat and chair of the House education committee, say it's easier said than done.
"There's not a lot of money to go towards higher education like we all want. It is a problem that we are all aware of," says McLean.
So where do we go from here? That's the big question. In part three tomorrow on KNWA news at 10 pm, we talk with lawmakers to see what options are being discussed at the state level.
And in case you missed it, check out part one HERE.