In Kansas, college graduates settle for less

Being "upside-down" means owing more on your house or car than it's worth.

Right now, Patricia Summers is upside-down on her college degree.

She owes $18,000 on loans taken to get her degree in advertising from the University of Missouri. Her college time will end up costing more than $50,000, not counting what she could have earned from a full-time job had she not gone to college.

But that job probably would have been a dead-end, low-paying service job, advocates of higher education contend.

Which is exactly what Summers is doing now: serving burgers at a Sonic drive-in.

The recession is recalibrating the economics of higher education.

"Whether college is worth it depends on how much you pay for it," said Kevin Carey, the policy director at the Education Sector, a Washington-based education think tank. "It's not worth much if you pay too much for a degree that has no value in the market or one that pays too little to pay back what you borrowed."

College costs are rising fast, as are student debt loads

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