States should rethink the way financial aid is given to college students so it is simpler to access and used more effectively, according to a report released last week by the Brookings Institution.
The report—the product of a 14-member panel assembled by the Washington-based think tank—calls for states to move beyond strict categories of “merit aid” and “need-based aid” and come up with innovative ways of encouraging students with financial need to enroll in and complete college.
In the current tight economic climate, the panel recommends that states be more intentional with their aid, including setting appropriate expectations and providing support for college success, to make the most of the taxpayers’ investment.
Specifically, it says, states should:
• Better target aid dollars to students with the most financial need;
• Consolidate programs to make the system easier for families to navigate, adding, for instance, searchable tables that allow students to see grant eligibility based only on income and family size;
• Create a single net-price calculator for students to figure out the cost of attendance at every public institution in the state;
• Encourage students to complete their college education on time by rewarding students for concrete accomplishments, such as completing credit hours;
• Provide second chances for students who lose funding because they do not meet targets the first time around;
• Avoid setting academic requirements for state grant programs that focus exclusively on past achievement, thus excluding students on the margin of college access; and
• Evaluate the effectiveness of existing grant programs and test innovative approaches that could eventually be scaled up for widespread use.
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2012 edition of Education Week as Panel Calls for Remaking Student-Aid Programs