About 95,000 Minnesota college students will receive an average $200 extra in direct financial aid this year, state officials said Tuesday.
The surplus in the state's grant program is due to an increase in federal money and lower-than-expected enrollment.
The additional aid comes as Minnesota students are graduating with more than $31,000 in school debt, which is the fifth-highest average debt load in the nation, according to a 2014 study by Project for Student Debt.
"This increase in state grant awards will provide direct tuition relief to tens of thousands of hardworking students," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in a statement.
This year's surplus in the Minnesota State Grant program spending balance is largely due to lower than expected college enrollment numbers at public colleges and universities and recent increases in the federal Pell grant program.
The Department of Higher Education attributed lower enrollment to the strong economy. College enrollment tends to increase during recessions when people have a harder time finding work and look to learn new skills, while falling again during economic recoveries.
The Minnesota State Grant is the state's largest financial aid program, awarding up to $180 million in need-based grants to Minnesota residents attending eligible colleges and universities in Minnesota, including both private and public institutions.
"Expenses such as books and transportation can extend well beyond the poverty-level living standard recognized by the State Grant program," said Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller. "We are committed to sending all available resources back to students in the form of increased grants."
The Legislature, at Gov. Mark Dayton's urging, has added $125 million to the program in recent years, expanding eligibility by 17,000 students while increasing the grants by an average of about $500.
Nationally, tuition and fees are up 81 percent at public, four-year institutions since 2000, according to CNBC.