College graduation is supposed to mark the beginning of a bright future, but many of today's students are starting out under a mountain of school debt.

Private colleges average $84,000 for four years. Public universities average $32,000, leaving many high schoolers asking themselves if a higher degree is really worth the price.

"The costs are really draining," student Jessie Mahn said.

Still, statistics show college to be a good investment. Graduates earn an average of 81 percent more than those with only a high school diploma.

"These days everyone has a college education, at least it seems that way.You think if you don't, you're not competitive," student Whitney Francis said.

Nearly 60 percent of American businesses won't even consider job applicants without a higher education degree.

"They scan out people without the degrees, especially when you're entering the workforce and you don't have the experience," Christa Krepps of the Adecco Employment Agency said. "They want to see a B.A."

But if you think the key to success is a sheepskin from Harvard or Stanford, think again.

One Princeton study found that top students earned the same amount of money after graduation, regardless of whether they went to an Ivy League school or to a state school.

"It's more important that a student goes on to college than where the student actually goes to college," Princeton economist Alan Krueger said.

College administrators will tell you that a higher education is about more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, that students pick up analytical skills that pay off no matter what career they choose.

Krueger's study seems to confirm that. He found that a school's prestige matters less than simply having college experience under your belt.

"The cost of going to college is very expensive, and the cost of not going to college is even more expensive," Krueger said.