For decades, college tuition costs have been skyrocketing, yet state financial aid has failed to meet the increasing economic needs of college students — leaving many young people with the choice of bridging the financial gap by taking out student loans or not attending college at all. This pressing issue of rising college tuition is not just a matter of economic inconvenience; it is a harbinger of deepening racial and socioeconomic inequalities. The lack of financial aid disproportionately deters Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds from pursuing higher education and earning a college degree.

In this report, we explore state financial aid funding and associated program requirements in 10 distinct states: California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. In it, we shed light on the 12 key eligibility requirements that often serve as barriers for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, undocumented students, and justice-impacted students to afford college:

  1. Program type (Need, Merit, or Need and Merit)
  2. FAFSA completion required
  3. Alternative to FAFSA
  4. Low-income requirement
  5. Available without standardized test score
  6. Available without mandated GPA
  7. Marginalized student populations included
  8. FAFSA as a state high-school graduation requirement
  9. Institution types eligible
  10. Average undergraduate cost of attendance (COA) for in-state students (2022-23 academic year)
  11. Annual award amount description
  12. Enrollment intensity

This analysis is designed to help educators, policymakers, and advocates better understand the barriers, strengths, limitations, and influences that state financial aid programs can have on the ability of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds to access and afford college.

Our Recommendations

Here are six action items policymakers and educations leaders can take to improve their financial aid programs to ensure that all students can achieve their academic goals:

  1. Prioritize access to state need-based aid
  2. Increase award amounts
  3. Explore new methods for determining financial need
  4. Prioritize state financial aid alternative application processes
  5. Make state financial aid available to students less than full-time
  6. Standardize “student aid offers”

Download the Report