For many Americans, going to college is a crucial stepping stone to the middle class. But the cost of higher education has risen dramatically in the last thirty years, outpacing inflation, health care premiums and median family income. To make up the difference, nearly two-thirds of today's undergraduates go into debt—over one trillion dollars worth combined. They are also paying a greater share of the costs themselves, according to a new survey by Sallie Mae.

According to the report, undergraduates covered 30 percent of the cost of college themselves last year—the highest percentage since 2007. Most of their contribution came from student loans, of which they borrowed about one thousand dollars more than in 2009. Last year, students spent an average $2,555 from their own income and savings and took out $3,719 in loans.

That's a “major shift in spending,” according to the report. Parent income and savings supported 36 percent of the cost of college in 2008; last year it was just 28 percent, as students shouldered the bulk of rising costs.

Skyrocketing tuition and a weak economy have also caused families to reconsider how much money they can afford to spend on higher education. Nearly 70 percent of families said they eliminated college choices after receiving inadequate financial aid packages last year, the highest level since the survey began in 2007. Over half of students said they had decided to live at home to save money.