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Minnesota Colleges Get Richer as Student Debt Skyrockets

Student debt continues to cripple the financial health of millions of young Americans.

Student debt continues to cripple the financial health of millions of young Americans.

Federal student loan debt hit the $800 billion threshold at the end of last year, bringing the total balance on all outstanding public and private student loans to $1.13 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

At the same time, many of the endowments belonging to the nation's colleges and universities continue to swell. Take the University of Minnesota.

See also: Minnesota college grads among most debt-saddled anywhere, study finds

The school's endowment grew from just under $2.5 billion in 2012 to almost $2.8 billion just one year later.

Over the same period, U of M students were hit with a pair of tuition hikes. A 5 percent increase in 2012 was followed by a 3.5 percent bump 12 months later.

According to the Project on Student Debt, an independent nonprofit research and policy group dedicated to higher education affordability, 61 percent of U of M students graduated in debt in 2013 -- at an average of $29,000 in the hole.

It's true the university has frozen tuition rates the last two years. Still, the state's flagship public institution remains one of the largest recipients of federal student loan dollars.

It's pretty much a racket. By giving higher ed a stable well of taxpayer monies via student tuition, the federal government allows the nation's universities a complicit role in ransacking the financial freedom of generations of young Americans.

After all, why tap into your own investment portfolios to help students pay for college when somebody else does it for you?

For the 40 million Americans with student loan debt, it's an adding-insult-to-injury scenario, says Natalia Abrams, executive director of studentdebtcrisis.org.

"You look at these schools with healthy, growing endowments. They're using their money to build things like new beautiful libraries. At the same time, that money could be used to help students pay for school instead of them taking out more loans."

To illustrate how far removed the business of academia is from the real world, we look no further than the University of St. Thomas, the state's largest college.

One year ago, St. Thomas announced tuition was going up almost 4 percent for the 2014-15 school year. Vice President of University and Government Relations Doug Hennes noted the increase was the second-lowest in 20 years.

Hennes said this was due to a university effort to help keep a St. Thomas education affordable. His definition of affordable: $46,000.

Yes, for one year.

At least that figure includes room and board.

For the record, two-thirds of St. Thomas students graduated with debt in 2013. The average burden: $36,000.

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