Students graduating

Making college affordable and student debt sustainable requires going beyond simply providing financial aid programs—access to resources must be guaranteed as well. When aid is available but not truly accessible, it fails to achieve key goals around affordability, equity, and opportunity.

Access refers to the ability to actually use available programs, benefits, and resources. It means aid is provided in a practical, inclusive, and culturally responsive manner. Availability, on the other hand, only means the option nominally exists, with significant barriers still preventing or limiting actual access and participation.

Solving the student debt crisis necessitates removing barriers to aid access, not just proclaiming aid availability. Some key differences include:

•Simplified applications: Complex applications exclude many eligible students, while simple applications promote inclusion. Simplification reduces non-completion rates.

•Automatic enrollment: Automatically enrolling eligible students ensures aid reaches all who need it, not just those proactive enough to apply. Automatic aid is more equitable.

•Broad eligibility: Narrow eligibility criteria leave many struggling students without support. Reasonable, asset-based criteria determine who is really unable to afford college costs.

• Tailored support: One-size-fits-all programs rarely meet unique student needs. Tailored counseling, advising, and aid packaging helps each student access the specific resources that will benefit them most.

•Transparency: Lack of transparency around costs, aid, and debt levels obscures the realities of college affordability. Improved transparency empowers students and families to make decisions in their own self-interest.

•Targeted outreach: Relying on students and families to independently seek out aid on their own leads to under-participation among those most in need. Targeted outreach proactively reaches underserved communities to promote access.

Solving student debt at scale requires transforming the system to prioritize access over mere availability of aid. By removing barriers, simplifying processes, broadening eligibility, tailoring support, increasing transparency, and conducting targeted outreach, the promise of affordable college can be fulfilled for all students, not just those already poised to succeed. Access is key to opportunity, equity, and eventually building a responsible and just system of higher education finance overall. With access, availability becomes impact.


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