By selling coveted mailing lists that can number into the hundreds of thousands of names - and even include athletic boosters and school donors - the schools have set up a never-ending stream of revenue that takes little more than a signature to feed.
Some schools even get a percentage of every credit-card purchase or debit-card transaction a student or alumnus makes, according to copies of the deals reviewed by The Denver Post.
Colleges say they're merely helping students learn financial responsibility; banks say they're simply offering a needed service and funding; critics contend it's just another way to make money on the backs of individuals already burdened by an economic slump.
"Young people are the future. If a bank can get them at the beginning, it's long-term marketing," said Gale Hillebrand, chief counsel at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. "The debt treadmill is designed to generate revenue for years."
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(Copyright 2010 The Denver Post)