Higher education has always been seen as a dependable path to a more secure future—a sound investment that creates opportunity, lifts up communities, and pays dividends for generations to come. Today, however, the specter of debt casts a shadow over that conventional wisdom, threatening the promise of education for American families and imperiling our long-term economic prospects.

Borrowers in the class of 2016 just graduated from college weighted down with record debt averaging about $37,000 per student; some 42 million Americans now carry $1.3 trillion in education debt collectively.

It’s a burden with a severe ripple effect: Consumer Reports has found that those saddled with debt frequently delay buying a home, put off saving for retirement, and are otherwise held back from planning for their future. Perhaps worst of all, 45 percent of the Americans with student-loan debt we surveyed reported that the higher education they pursued was not worth the costs it carried—a devastating statistic on both a personal and a societal level.

This month we’re shedding light on how we got here by asking hard questions about what needs to be done in the marketplace to restore the promise of post-high-school education for all families.

In our student debt crisis guide, you’ll find expert advice on how to avoid buyer’s remorse, including guidance on federal and private financial aid, a breakdown of how to manage and diminish the impact of student debt, and responses to your most urgent concerns about how you or your family members can earn an education without sacrificing financial security down the road.

As tuitions and financial aid terms continue to spiral out of control, we’ll also be looking at how to bring sanity and responsibility back to the lending markets you depend on so that education can remain the path to opportunity it was always meant to be.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.