In this May 13, 2012, file photo, Morgan Simpson celebrates her graduation during the processional of the University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska

In this May 13, 2012, file photo, Morgan Simpson celebrates her graduation during the processional of the University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska (Sam Harrel / Associated Press / October 17, 2012)

College degree = heavy debt.

That’s the equation to be drawn from a new survey showing that the average student-loan borrower last year graduated with $26,600 in debt.

That’s a 5.3% increase from $25,250 in 2010 and the latest dreary statistic showing that student debt levels are continuing to spiral despite growing scrutiny of the personal and societal effects, according to the Institute for College Access & Success in Oakland.

The average debt has been rising at a roughly 5% annual clip in recent years and now totals more than $1 trillion, according to some estimates.

The news was somewhat better in California, where the average debt was $18,879, up 4.2% from the year before. The lower debt level appears to be the result of the state’s heavy concentration of lower-cost public colleges. Slightly more than half of graduates at California schools had outstanding loans.

Still, the overall numbers point to the heavy loan burdens across the country. About two-thirds of students earning bachelor’s degrees graduated with loan debt, according to the study. Some undergraduates finished school owing more than $55,000.

"In these tough times, a college degree is still your best bet for getting a job and decent pay,” said Lauren Asher, president of the organization that put out the study. “But, as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed.”

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