(CNN) - When Jackie Giovaniello graduated from Brown University this year, she put off going straight to medical school, instead, taking a research job at Sloan-Kettering Hospital.
"It's nice to have a paying job, full-time, where I can pay back part of my student loans before going to med school and possibly adding on a lot more," said Giovanniello.
She had plenty of loans, too - $100,000 worth. Her family is middle-class; mother works in a school and dad owns a bar. She says they're considered too wealthy to qualify for many grants but not wealthy enough to have saved the money to pay for the more than $50,000/year it costs to attend Brown.
"When you're in the middle class, you are a normal suburban family but you just don't make an outrageous amount of money -- so you can't pay for these outrageous prices for tuition, you know?"
She's not alone. Student loan debt hit $1 trillion last year. Even tuition for public four-year colleges rose 68 percent over the past decade.
Enter the presidential campaign, with college affordability a key issue for younger voters.
In a July 5 speech, President Obama said, "I want to make college more affordable for every young person who has the initiative and drive to go, and make sure they're not burdened by thousands of dollars' worth of debt."
In his first term, Mr. Obama has expanded Pell Grants and cut out the banks as middlemen for loans, allowing students to borrow directly from the government. Now, he proposes slowing tuition growth by increasing state grants. He'll need Congress' help if that is to get passed, though.
In an August speech of his own, GOP Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney responded, saying, "I'm not gonna go ahead and promise free stuff that you will end up paying for. What I want to do is get you a great job, so you can pay it back yourself."
His plan to help students is to remove burdensome regulations and get the government out of the student loan business. Romney said the flood of federal dollars just drives up tuition. Molly Corbett Broad of the American Council on Education points out the recession's heavy toll on state budgets is also a factor.
According to Broad, "When the state reduces its support, the only other place to turn for most colleges in the public sector is to increase tuition."
Either way, students like Jackie feel left out in the cold.
"A lot of people who don't have students in college or don't have kids my age just think that, 'Oh, you're either wealthy enough to go to college or you get financial aid from the government. It's that simple.' But it's not that simple."