The Challenge

College affordability is about more than tuition and fees. It reflects the ability of students and their families to meet expenses and maintain a reasonable standard of living. Traditional financial aid such as grants and loans are often inadequate to cover the true cost of attendance. Reducing financial hardships among low-income students requires more than traditional financial aid. Beyond Financial Aid is a practical guide for colleges and universities to promote equity and improve their service to low-income students.

The Facts

Approximately one in three undergraduates across the country qualify as low-income. These students represent a broad mix of the population, including women and men, single and working parents, students with disabilities, undocumented individuals, and foster youth. Students experiencing economic hardship also are more likely to be Black, Hispanic, or Native American.


Beyond Financial Aid offers five strategies to help institutions address the broader financial needs of low-income students:

  1. Know the low-income students at your institution. By reviewing institutional data, you can identify low-income students, better understand how they experience the institution, and pinpoint the factors that affect their ability to succeed.
  2. Provide supports to help low-income students overcome barriers. A financial stability package for low-income students can provide easy access to public benefits such as food assistance, health care, financial advice, and career coaching.
  3. Leverage external partnerships for service delivery on campus. Strengthening such relationships can benefit students, institutions, and the organizations that provide the services.
  4. Empower low-income students to use available resources. Make services easy to access and use. One way to do this is to make an “opt-out” model the default. That is, automatically provide services unless students actively choose not to use them.
  5. Review your internal processes. Analyze internal processes from the perspective of low-income students. Then revise and streamline those processes in ways that better meet those students’ needs.

Helping Poor Students Graduate from College Requires Care and Listening | NPQ | Sep. 16, 2019