The 10 Richest Colleges in America

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- As tuition costs continue to mount at universities across the nation, some colleges are sitting on mountains of cash.

And while some of that cash goes to regular campus operations or scholarships for students with financial need, many schools don't really use it at all, investing the money to fund big future projects. And sometimes, when the economy tanks, the money simply gets lost in the market.

With a $32 billion endowment last year, Harvard is the richest institution of higher education in the U.S.

Private schools rely on alumni and corporate sponsors to raise funds for the school's endowment fund, and while some endowments face restrictions in how money gets spent (as in some donations can be spent only after a certain amount of time, or can be invested only so as to use the profits, not the capital), many leading universities have taken criticism for collecting the money and sitting on it while raising costs for students.

The most recent comprehensive endowment study from the National Association of College and University Business Owners, which evaluated the endowment funds for 839 institutions in the U.S. as of last year, found 75 with more than $1 billion in the bank.

Here are the 10 richest universities in the U.S.

10th-richest: Texas A&M
Endowment funds last year: $7 billion
Change from previous year: 22%
Students last fall: 49,861
Undergraduate tuition: $19,035 (estimated cost of attendance for Texas residents for one year at the main campus)

With its flagship campus in College Station, Texas, centrally located in the triangle formed by Dallas, Houston and Austin, the Texas A&M University system (comprising 12 total campuses) has a number of ties to business and industry in the area, including NASA's Johnson Space Center outside of Houston. That means many of the school's business and engineering graduates have plenty of opportunities to stay in the area after leaving the university, and the strong alumni community has helped the school's endowment reach the top 10 in the nation.

One of the most recent projects those funds have been allocated for is a planned expansion of the school's veterinary hospital, along with classrooms and a teaching lab at a projected cost of $120 million.

Ninth-richest: Northwestern University
Endowment funds last year: $7.2 billion
Change from previous year: 20.8%
Students last fall: 20,284
Undergraduate tuition: $40,223 for tuition, room and board

With most of its operations concentrated in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University's undergraduate and graduate degrees are top-notch, with the law and medical schools cranking out well-paid professionals who give back to the school generously. Regular distributions from the university's ninth-largest endowment account for 17% of the annual budget, most of which goes to new building construction (44% of endowment funds in 2009) and renovation projects (42% of 2009 funds) on existing sports and academic facilities.