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Dive Brief:

  • Almost 72% of undergraduates received some form of financial aid in the 2019-20 academic year — essentially the same share as those who attended college four years prior, according to new federal data released Wednesday.
  • On average, undergraduates received $14,100 in aid, which can include grants, federal student loans or other types of assistance. This is according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which is conducted every three or four years by a wing of the U.S. Department of Education. 
  • For the 2015-16 year, undergraduates on average got $12,300 in financial aid. While a similar share of undergraduates — roughly 55% — received some sort of federal aid in 2015-16 and 2019-20, the type of aid they received differed. The percentage of undergraduates with Pell Grants rose by 1 percentage point, to 40% in 2019-20, while the share with Direct Loans fell from 36% to 34%. 

Dive Insight:

Data published Wednesday offers a new look at 80,800 undergraduate and 19,7000 graduate students enrolled between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, and the sources of state, federal and private aid they accepted.

The survey found differences based on students’ race and ethnicity. 

Black undergraduates received financial aid at higher rates than their peers. About 81% of Black undergraduates got some form of aid, versus 70% of White undergraduates and 66% of Asian undergraduates. 

And almost half of Black undergraduates took out some form of student loans, compared to 26% of both Asian undergraduates and American Indian or Alaska Native undergraduates. 

Overall, 36% of undergraduates took out student loans themselves, while 4% had parents who took out federal Direct PLUS Loans.

Undergraduates with federal Direct Loans borrowed on average $6,500, including an average of $3,800 in subsidized loans and an average of $4,000 in unsubsidized loans.

Subsidized loans, which are based on financial need, do not accrue interest until graduation. Unsubsidized loans accrue interest from the time they are disbursed. 

And undergraduates with federal Pell Grants, a proxy for low- and moderate-income status, on average received $4,100. 

Nearly 60% of Black undergraduates, and half of Hispanic undergraduates, had Pell Grants in 2019-20 versus 32% of White students who didn’t identify as Hispanic. 

On the graduate student side, 74% received some form of aid in 2019-20, with 42% taking out loans. About 12% received graduate assistantships.

The average amount of aid graduate students received was $25,300, with the average value of a graduate assistantship at $18,800.

Policymakers and the public alike have scrutinized the country’s financial aid system much more closely as college costs have risen, especially as the federal loan portfolio has swelled to more than $1.6 trillion.

The Biden administration has attempted to rework federal aid policy. Most notably, the president attempted to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some borrowers, though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this program unlawful in June. 

The White House is attempting a new, regulatory route to cancel student loans, though it could be a lengthy process.