A college degree is often billed as a ticket to the so-called American Dream. But for many people, the money spent along the way can serve as a ticket of another kind as well -- one leading to mountains of debt that will haunt them for years to come.
It's an enormous problem, the size of which top policy makers are only beginning wrap their heads around. Perhaps you haven't done so yourself. And in that case, here are 12 numbers to help you truly understand the scope of the issue:
-- $1.1 trillion: The amount of outstanding student loan debt. An official at one federal agency deemed student loan debt levels to be "too big to fail," after they exceeded $1 trillion in March 2012.
-- 2: The ranking of student loan debt compared to other types of consumer debt. It's exceeded only by mortgages, according to the New York Federal Reserve.
-- $101.8 billion: The profits generated by the Department of Education from student borrowers over the last 5 fiscal years, according to a review by The Huffington Post.
-- Nearly 300 percent: The amount student loan debt has grown over the past 8 years, according to a February report from the New York Federal Reserve.
-- 40 percent: The share of households headed by someone under 35 that owed college debt in 2010, according to Pew.
-- More than 80 percent: The share of bankruptcy attorneys who reported that the number of their clients with student loan debt increased "significantly" or "somewhat" in a February 2012 survey.
-- $26,600: The amount the average college graduate of the class of 2011 owed in college loans, according to NBC News.
-- Nearly 1 in 5: The number of households that had student loan debt in 2010. That's double the share of households burdened by college debt in 1989, according to a Pew analysis.
-- 37 million: The number of Americans who have student loan debt, according to Federal Reserve data cited by NPR.
-- 6.8 percent: The new interest rate on subsidized student loans starting July 1 if Congress does nothing. That is double the current interest rate.
-- More than 1 in 10: The number of borrowers that defaulted on their student loans in the three years leading up to Sept. 30, 2011, according to Bloomberg.
-- 22.7 percent: The default rate in the three years leading up to Sept. 30, 2011 for borrowers that attended for-profit colleges, according to Bloomberg. That's compared to a default rate of 11 percent for borrowers that attended public universities.