05/15/2012 09:24 am ET Updated May 16, 2012

Student Debt Levels Often Higher At State Schools Than Elite Private Colleges, Analysis Shows

Student debt weighing on your mind? You might be surprised about where the worst of it comes from.

A recent Reuters analysis of student debt at various highly-ranked universities revealed that state schools often leave graduates with greater levels of debt than they'd get by attending Ivy League universities.

It all depends on what kind of financial aid programs the schools have to offer, according to Reuters -- and many state schools, feeling the public budget crunch that has swept the country in recent years, can't provide as much help to cash-strapped students. Tuition and fees at private schools four-year schools increased 28 percent in the last five years; meanwhile the in-state tuition at public schools soared 41 percent, according to data cited by Reuters.

The Reuters analysis could prove useful to parents and students attempting to navigate the waters of higher education and household finance. In an economic climate still largely characterized by high unemployment and modest wages, many families are facing hard choices about where their high school-age children can and should think about going to college.

More and more college students are borrowing to cover their tuition costs, according to a recent story in The New York Times, and more are discovering upon leaving school that their student debt will inform virtually all of their financial and life decisions for years to come.

Student debt can prove especially damaging to a recent college graduate because it's an obligation that can't be erased even in the event of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, vast numbers of young people who have graduated from college since the economic downturn hit are still struggling to find work, and those who have found jobs are likely to receive lower wages than people who entered the job market just slightly before them -- a wage gap that can persist for more than a decade.

The student debt crisis -- which many analysts fear could be leading to an unsustainable bubble in the country's economy -- is also sending historically large numbers of recent graduates back home to live with their parents after college.