"[W]hen I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that."

“If one is not thinking about where this is headed over the next two or three years, you are just completely missing the warning signs,” said Rajeev V. Date, deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog created after the financial crisis…

“I readily admit it,” said E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University, who has also served as president of Vanderbilt and Brown, among others. “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.”…

Still, economists say, growing student debt hangs over the economic recovery like a dark cloud for a generation of college graduates and indebted dropouts. A study of recent college graduates conducted by researchers at Rutgers University and released last week found that 40 percent of the participants had delayed making a major purchase, like a home or car, because of college debt, while slightly more than a quarter had put off continuing their education or had moved in with relatives to save money. Roughly half of the surveyed graduates had a full-time job…

The financial aid award letters to newly admitted students can also be a minefield for students and parents sorting through the true costs of a school. Some are written in a manner that suggests the student is getting a great deal, by blurring the line between grants and loans or not making clear how much the student may have to pay or borrow.

A quick reading of an award letter from Drexel University, received by a New Jersey applicant in March, implied that the student would owe nothing and might actually walk away with money. The expected payment to Drexel, it said in highlighted bright yellow, would be a negative $5,900. The calculation presumed grants, student loans and a $42,120 loan taken out by the parents toward the $63,620 estimated cost — figures also included in the letter but not highlighted.