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Hard lessons of college debt

America's student loan debt is more than $870 billion and on a pace to surpass a trillion dollars by 2012. In financial terms, the amount is staggering. In personal terms, the impact is widespread.

People are defaulting on their student loans at an alarming rate; the total doubled over the last five years. And it begs the question: Are we witnessing this country's next economic crisis?

In this video, CNBC correspondent Scott Cohn shares the story of a Midwest couple - both unemployed at the time of his interview - that has more than $250,000 in unpaid student loans. With the accrued interest, they are facing a total bill that's more than twice the original loan. It's a heartbreaking tale from a family - with three small kids - trying to survive.

Cohn hosts a documentary tonight on CNBC called "Price of Admission" and could be worth a watch.

CNBC's Scott Cohn reports that many people who took out student loans to pay for college are finding themselves in a pile of debt that is not going away.