When college students don’t finish school, they may not have a degree but they often have plenty of debt.

That’s a tough position to be in.

Nona Willis Aronowitz of NBC News reports.

Debt, no degree: Bills mount for ex-college students who never reached the finish line

This past April, facing the prospect of three 20-page papers due in the same week, Indiana University East student Harmony Glenn had a panic attack in the school library.

“I couldn’t breathe, and my chest felt tight,” she said. “I was asking myself, ‘Do I push forward…or do I cut my losses?’”

Glenn, 27, had been inching toward a bachelor’s degree since 2004, transferring schools and taking breaks from her studies to switch her major, live with her parents to save money, and later move around Indiana with her husband to chase the best-paying jobs. Lately, she’d been working fulltime as a sales associate for a skin care retailer in an Indianapolis mall, and didn’t have the bandwidth to focus on her schoolwork.

The night of her panic attack, she made a decision to leave school. “I just looked at the bills and realized this didn’t make sense anymore,” she said.

Her husband, Christopher, 29, had dropped out a couple of years before after getting “burnt out” by both working and studying first at St. Joseph’s, then Ball State University, then Indiana University. He got his EMT certification instead. Together, they have around $40,000 in student loan debt, but no degrees to show for it.

“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about it,” said Christopher. “This debt is a huge weight hanging over our heads. We’ve always wanted to purchase real estate, but our debts put a damper on that.”

The Glenns are part of a growing population stuck paying down debt for a degree they never got. According to a 2011 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, only 56 percent of students who enter four-year programs graduate within six years. That number plunges to 22 percent for for-profit colleges.