New Policy Brief Highlights Need to Protect and Improve Financial Aid
Many high school students and young adults are turning to college in order to increase their future job and earnings prospects. Yet, with ever-increasing higher education costs, far too many students and their families are coming up short, and accumulating burdensome debt. NCTC’s newest policy brief, “Investing in Our Future: Financial Aid Policies that Increase Access and Affordability in Higher Education,” examines some of the recent changes in the financial aid system, on both the state and the federal levels, and provides some recommendations to protect and bolster these programs, allowing higher education to become an affordable reality for any student, regardless of his or her income.
Helping students – in particular those from low- and moderate-income families – apply for the financial aid that could potentially make higher education an affordable reality has long been a priority for NCTC. Through the innovative Financial Aid U (FAU) and College Assistance Programs (CAP), thousands of students have received assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), often in conjunction with tax preparation services. These programs aim to assist the students who face the most obstacles in terms of applying for and enrolling in higher education – last year, 73% of FAU clients served were to be first-generation college students, and 92% were from low-income families and qualified for Pell Grants.
Such programs are successful because accessing the very financial aid designed to make college affordable can be a hurdle in itself. The FAFSA asks a confusing array of questions pertaining to families’ finances and assets, and with college costs and student debt skyrocketing, too many college-ready students may not even know they could qualify for financial aid and consider higher education beyond their reach.
But recent changes in the structure or eligibility requirements for financial aid may already be having negative effects upon students’ enrollment, or their ability to persist and earn their degrees. And state budget cuts, coupled with the drive for federal deficit reduction, are putting more and more financial aid programs at risk.
“Investing in Our Future” refers to the up-front costs of making higher education affordable for any student who hopes to learn the skills and earn the qualifications to better their job and earnings prospects for the future. Such initial investments only serve to strengthen our economy for generations to come.