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Agreements between credit card issuers and colleges used to be extremely common, but have become less so in the last few years after a federal crackdown on the ways in which these contracts could work.

Over the last three years, the number of agreements between lenders and institutions of higher learning, as well as the total number of accounts on them, the number of new ones being opened every year, and the amount paid by lenders, have declined significantly, according to the latest annual data issued by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Through the end of 2011, there were 798 of these agreements between lenders and colleges nationwide, down from both the 1,005 seen the year before, and 1,045 in 2009. That’s a loss of 24 percent over the three-year period.

Further, the total number of accounts open as a result of these agreements also slipped 26 percent during this time to slightly more than 1.5 million, the report said. In 2010, the number was more than 1.7 million, and the year prior, it stood at more than 2.04 million. Along similar lines, the number of new credit cards opened through these deals slipped to 43,010 in 2011, down from 2010’s 46,385. It was also a 23 percent decline from the 55,747 seen in 2009.

However, at the same time, the number of lenders participating in these deals has actually grown, though only slightly, the report said. While there were only 21 last year, that was up from 18 in 2009, but down from 22 the year before.

The largest of these participants by far was FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America, the report said. Of the total 798 agreements, FIA held 633 of them, including more than 1.26 million of the 1.5 million open accounts nationwide. However, the company also had 848 such agreements in place in 2010, 216 of which were terminated, while it was only able to open one new one.

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Credit card deals like these are often criticized as being unfair to consumers associated with colleges in various ways — whether they’re students, faculty, staff or alumni — because it gives lenders the ability to market directly to them through information stored in university databases. In recent years, greater efforts have been made to protect young adults in particular from taking on new accounts they may not be able to afford.

Image: Eduardo Merille, via Flickr

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