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For all of the older college graduates in the U.S. who can't quite understand what the big fuss over student loans is all about, let's make it abundantly clear: It's more than 500% more expensive to enroll in college now than it was in 1985.

As Bloomberg points out, the rising cost of college tuition far outpaced the growth of medical costs (286%) and overall inflation (121%) during the same span. Even if you earned your diploma in the late '90s, you still got a bargain by comparison. Tuition rates kept pace with health care costs in the early '90s, but spiked from a relatively paltry 200% of their 1985 average in the early 2000s.

Michelle Cooper, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, told Bloomberg the skyrocketing tuition drives income inequality by depriving those of less means of schooling. And that may derail the "prestige and status" of U.S. higher education. Sorry, Michelle, but you're a little late to that deeply indebted graduation party.

College graduates are making $3,200 less than they did in 2000. Both art school and business school grads are swimming in debt: Total U.S. student loan debt adds up to $1.1 trillion. Cash-poor doctorate recipients are seeking food stamps in increasing numbers. Roughly 284,000 college graduates are making the minimum wage.

Even when graduates get a job, their debt doesn't get any less onerous. The Center For College Affordability and Productivity reported that nearly half of the college graduates from the class of 2010 are in jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree. A full 38% have taken jobs that don't even require a high school education.

That combination of loans and low wages is keeping recent and not-so-recent college grads out of the housing market entirely. Just about the only folks to really profit from college education within the last decade have been in Washington, where the government pulled in $100 billion in student loan interest.

Although President Barack Obama and Congress recently hammered out legislation capping student loan rates, even a proposal to tie loans and grants to a college ranking system based on costs and benefits is facing skepticism. Even worse, the current Higher Education Act expires this year and requires the Republican-controlle​d House and Democrat-led Senate to craft a new one next year.

As staggering as the rapid pace of college tuition increases has been, the equal and opposite glacial attempts by the federal government to do anything about it have been similarly stunning.

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