How Students Use Federal, State and Institutional Aid to Pay for College: A Primer for State Policymakers

How Students Use Federal, State and Institutional Aid to Pay for College: A Primer for State Policymakers

The variety of aid sources available to students today can lead to confusion when it comes to policymaking, especially at the state level. Funding for postsecondary education varies across states but is often earmarked to cover tuition and fees. For some programs, financial aid may also help supplement costs for other related expenditures, such as room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses that impact enrollment. In many states, anecdotes risk overshadowing what is clear: Today’s financial aid packages, however diverse in funding sources, rarely meet the full cost of attending college.

This primer is a tool for policymakers to use to better understand some of the ways in which federal, state and institutional dollars are distributed to help students pay for college. It begins by exploring the main sources of support — including federal grants, state assistance programs, loans and institutional aid — that are available to students today. Each type of program is explained in detail, with particular attention to the salient characteristics for state policymakers and the potential limitations of each stream of support.

This tool was authored by Molly Sarubbi and Sarah Pingel of the Education Commission of the States. This is the most recent resource in a series of publications to assist new policy leaders who are taking on new roles and responsibilities for higher education policy in their communities, and to support robust policy dialogues across a number of policy issues.

Download: How Students Use Federal, State and Institutional Aid to Pay for College: A Primer for State Policymakers

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