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Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid Rises

September 4, 2013

NPSAS, conducted every three or four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), measures how American students and their families pay postsecondary education expenses. The 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study is a nationally representative sample of 95,000 undergraduates enrolled in higher education at any time between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. The 2008 NPSAS study, is based on a sample of about 114,000 undergraduates enrolled any time between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008.

Shift from Loans to Grants

Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, the share of students with grants rose from about 52 percent to 59 percent, while the proportion with loans grew from 39 percent to 42 percent. The average grant award increased from $4,900 to $6,200, while the average amount borrowed for one year of education remained $7,100 for both years.

The growth in grant awards was particularly pronounced at two-year public (community) colleges; the share of students at these schools who received grant aid rise to 51 percent in 2011-2 from 40 percent four years earlier. Average grant assistance to students at community colleges increased from $2,200 to $3,200. In contrast, the share of students at less-than-two-year private for-profit (proprietary) schools who took at least one student loan rose slightly (from 75 percent to 76 percent), and the average amount borrowed for one year of education rose only slightly ($6,500 to $6,700).

Increases in federal grant aid—particularly Federal Pell Grants, the largest federal grant program for undergraduates—accounted for much of the growth in total grant assistance during the time period. According to the annual Federal Pell Grant End of Year Report, the maximum Federal Pell Grant rose from $4,310 in 2007-08 to $5,550 in 2011-12. As a result, more students received higher Pell Grant awards.

NPSAS data show that the overall share of undergraduates receiving federal grant assistance rose from 28 percent in 2007-08 to 42 percent in 2011-12—a 50 percent increase. During the same time, the average federal grant award increased 25 percent (from $2,800 to $3,500). Pell Grant increases appear to have led to an overall substantial rise in federal grant receipt at all types of institutions. The share of community college students with federal grants jumped from about 21 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2012, and the average award grew to $3,000 from $2,300. At four-year private non-profit doctoral-granting universities, the share of students with federal grants jumped from 22 percent to 33 percent, and the average award rose to $4,000 from $3,700.

Institutional grant aid also rose sharply. The average institutional grant to students attending four-year private non-profit doctoral-granting institutions jumped from $10,400 in 2007-08 to $14,100 in 2011-12. The share of undergraduates at these schools who received an institutional grant increased from 53 percent to 58 percent.

Variations by Attendance Status

Receipt of aid and average award amounts also varied by attendance status. The share of full-time, full-year traditional-age (18 to 22 year old) undergraduates with any financial aid rose from 77 percent to 82 percent, and the average amount these students received increased 18 percent, from $13,100 to $15,500. For part-time or part-year students of any age, overall receipt of aid increased from 57 percent to 62 percent, and total amount received rose 17 percent, from $5,800 to $6,800.

In 2012, 38 percent of part-time or part-year undergraduates were awarded federal grants (compared with 37 percent of traditional-age full-time/full-year students. Traditional age students were much more likely to borrow, however. In 2012, 54 percent of all full-time/full-year students age 18 to 24 took out one or more loans to pay their postsecondary costs; this compares with 33 percent of all part-time undergraduates. On average, the full-time/full-year undergraduates borrowed $7,400 in 2011-12, compared with $6,100 for part-time or part-year students.

The 2012 NPSAS report is available for no charge from the NPSAS web site while data for 2008 may be obtained from NCES.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis