Trends in Student Financial Aid

How Recent Financial Aid Statistics Impact Today’s High School Students


The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) periodically conducts research on the state of financial aid in the U.S. This information is helpful to high school students and their parents who are trying to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to try to apply for financial aid. The Department of Education recently released information which shows that more students are benefitting from the availability of Pell Grants as well as nonfederal grant and scholarship aid.

The reports compare information from the 1999-2000 and 2011-12 academic years. The results are quite interesting:

  • Pell Grants: Between the two time periods surveyed, the average Pell Grant award increased from $1,900 to $3,400. The percentage of students who received Pell Grants also increased from 21.8 percent to 41.3 percent. Nearly half of today’s college students are benefitting from the Pell Grant program, regardless of whether they are attending a public four-year institution, private nonprofit four-year institution, or a public two-year institution . The report revealed that for-profit institutions have consistently had the largest percentage of Pell Grant recipients. It also stated that the likelihood of lower-middle income students receiving a Pell Grant increased. The first step in determining Pell Grant eligibility is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application will be available online beginning January 1, 2016, and all high school seniors applying to college are encouraged to complete it as soon as possible.
  • Undergraduate Nonfederal Grants and Scholarships: This report looks at non-federal financial aid which is awarded by states, institutions, employers, and private organizations. Unlike student loans, this type of financial aid usually does not need to be repaid, unless the student fails to live up to expectations. Grants and scholarships may be awarded based on financial need, academic achievement, athletic prowess, or some combination of these factors. According to the data, 70.7 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. received some form of aid in 2011-12, a significant jump from just 54.6 in 1999-2000. Some 57.2 percent received federal aid, while 40.4 percent received nonfederal aid.

    While it has been widely reported that college costs have been increasing, this data reveals that financial aid is also increasing. It is important that high school juniors, seniors, and their parents not make any assumptions about whether they are eligible for financial aid. There are many types of aid available from Pell Grants, other grants, scholarships, and state programs that can help ease the burden of paying for a college education. Federal and private student loans are used to cover any remaining gap.

    Although there are calculators which can help estimate the amount of financial aid a student might receive, the only sure way to receive a final determination is to file the FAFSA. Be aware that there are changes in the FAFSA filing timeframe. For this year’s high school seniors who will be attending college in the fall of 2016, the FAFSA will be available beginning January 1, 2016. For this year’s high school juniors who will be attending college in the fall of 2017, the FAFSA will be available beginning October 1, 2016. Both will utilize data from 2015 tax returns to calculate an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and determine financial aid eligibility.

    Don’t lose out on financial aid because you think you don’t qualify.

    As this data shows, a healthy percentage of today’s college students do receive financial aid in some way. The important thing to remember is that they all took the first step and completed the application form.