Generations of parents have worked hard to send their children to college, believing higher education is the best path to a better future.

But faced with the soaring cost to obtain a college diploma, members of the so-called millennial generation, ages 18 to 34, are on track to become the first in America not to do better than their parents.

This country says it values education, so why do so many students have to go deep into debt to get educated? In fact, student loan debt is expected to hit $1 trillion this year, which for the first time will push it above credit-card debt.

In a sobering look at student-loan debt, Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano detailed the potential for a financial meltdown that could have a ripple effect in the economy if financially strapped students are unable to repay loans, many with high interest rates.

With so much overwhelming student debt, loan defaults are increasing and will only get worse in a sluggish economy in which college graduates are unable to find jobs or to earn enough to cover steep loan payments.

Nowhere is the student debt crunch felt more than in Pennsylvania, where 70 percent of students have taken out loans and the average debt per student is more than $28,000. In New Jersey, the average debt is around $23,000, and 66 percent of students have loans.

Nationally, the average student debt is $25,000 per person — the highest level in American history.

It's not surprising that high tuition rates often beget high debt, especially in Pennsylvania, which has 22 of the 30 most expensive state schools in America. At the same time, state funding for public colleges and universities has been cut.

But while the state legislature must find a way to make higher education a greater priority, colleges and universities also must do a better job of finding efficiencies and keeping costs down. Schools with big endowments must shoulder more of the load by providing more grants and scholarships.

A college education is an investment in the future that benefits everyone. Everyone involved should keep that in mind as they try to make college affordable for more young Americans.