It's the latest snapshot of the growing burden of student debt and it's another discouraging one: Two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 finished school with loan debt, and those who borrowed walked off the graduation stage owing on average $26,600—up about 5% from the class before. And those figures, released today by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), likely underestimate the problem, because they don't include most graduates of for-profit colleges, who typically borrow more than their counterparts elsewhere.
Still, while 2011 college graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.8% last year, even those with debt remained generally better off than those without a degree. The unemployment rate for those with only a high school diploma last year was 19.1%. "In these tough times, a college degree is still your best bet for getting a job and decent pay," says TICAS' president. "But, as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed." (Read more student loans stories.)