PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The numbers are staggering – and the cost of higher education is only going up.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average graduate this year has more than $37,000 in debt. Nearly 60 percent of millennial graduates have no idea when their student loans will be paid off, the report suggests.

Eyewitness News reviewed a report for College Insight – an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success. It shows Rhode Island has the fourth highest average student debt in the country at $31,841.For more information from the Institute for College Access & Success, click here

Based on 2014’s graduating class, the highest average debt was at Roger Williams University at $24,300. The lowest was Brown University at $40,612.

Ben Concepcion said he knew at a young age that he would go to college. He said no one in his family had gone before, and he didn’t know how they would pay for it.

“Learning is such a beautiful thing,” he said. “Why am I being taxed on it? Why is it such a struggle for me – a person who needs education to better themselves and better his community – to have to pay for this?”

Concepcion connected with College Visions, which works to guide low-income and first-generation students through the daunting application and financing process.

He said students should be able to attend workshops on what to expect, including debt and making monthly payments.

Rosa Ramos, who was in a similar situation to Ben, said she received a scholarship and a financial aid package from Providence College that she could manage.

“You’re kind of on your own. Not because my parents don’t want to help me but because of financial reasons they can’t,” she said.

Simon Moore, the founder and executive director of College Visions, works directly with students like Ben and Rosa. His job is to help them navigate the difference between federal and private loans, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and loans and grants.

“The frustrating reality is that even though we talk often about the U.S. higher ed system being one of endless choices and over 4,000 institutions for most low-income students – there are very few affordable options,” he said.

Moore said the goal is to keep debt down, but also walk away with an education worth investing in.

“Engaging families in the process is essential,” he said. “When we talking about these numbers – especially for twelfth-grade students who are making college choices – the numbers are kind of abstract. What does $20,000 mean to a twelfth grader? Parents have a much more concrete sense of what that means.”

For Ben, going from a childhood in a Spanish-speaking home in Chad Brown to being a URI Rhody Ram is a dream come true. He said the opportunity has opened up a world beyond his dreams.

“This is where I’m from, this is what’s expected of me by society and stereotypes and limitations and all these different factors,” he said. “And then this is URI. This is a community I can build – I can be anybody. I can do anything.”

Eyewitness News asked Moore about the consequences of a student taking on more debt that they can handle. He said it can impact their dreams of one day ever buying a house. If they default on their loan payments, it’ll negatively affect that student’s credit.

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