Student Loans and Financial Aid

Perennial increases in the cost of higher education have increasingly forced college students to turn to financial aid. Many students would not be able to afford their tuition without Pell Grants, student loans, or grants from the institutions themselves. Learn more about our Student Loans and Financial Aid work.

Perennial increases in the cost of higher education have increasingly forced college students to turn to financial aid. Many students would not be able to afford their tuition without Pell Grants, student loans, or grants from the institutions themselves. Traditionally, financial aid has been the federal government’s largest role in higher education; it provides over $120 billion annually in loans and grants. States and institutions add an estimated $51 billion of their own.

While we believe that financial aid is crucial to ensuring access to higher education, we have also focused on how schools distribute their aid money and on the amount of debt taken on by students. We conduct research on schools that allocate money to students who don’t need financial help—so-called “merit aid”—in lieu of helping those who do. We also recognize that when a debt level grows high enough, the quality of an education is simply outweighed by its cost. Thus we also conduct research on debt burdens, asking whether the expected earnings for borrowers justifies the costs.