Explains the financial challenges faced by low income and non-traditional students; provides estimates on their growing number of needs; and describes the public benefits and the interactions with federal- and state-funded financial aid, including PELL grants and work study.

“Postsecondary credentials are a good investment for individuals, families, and communities. Better-educated workers earn higher wages and are more likely to be employed. Higher education levels also correlate with favorable social returns such as better health and higher rates of civic participation.

One of the principal barriers to more students pursuing and completing college is the lack of sufficient financial aid and family income. Over the last three decades, college tuition and fees have increased nearly four times faster than median income and four-and-a-half times faster than inflation. The rapid increase in college prices, along with student aid funding that has not kept up, has resulted in sizable unmet need, which is the gap between college costs and what students can afford to pay on their own or with aid that does not need to be repaid. Unmet financial need among low-income college students is a barrier to persistence and completion and challenges our national credential attainment goals” (p.1).

“Affording and completing college is tough enough for any student. But for low-income students, and particularly those who are juggling multiple responsibilities at school and home, postsecondary education is especially challenging. That’s why students—and the institutions they attend—need to think expansively about how to weave together the financial supports available to meet the many costs of attending and completing college. Public benefit programs are a source of temporary support that can help these low-income students—and the families of their own that many have—as they strive to gain the education, skills, and training they need to attain economic self- sufficiency” (p.20).

“In this paper, [the author] describe[s] the main public benefit and refundable tax credit programs low-income college students are most likely to be eligible for and their interactions with federal- and state-funded financial aid, including Pell Grants and work-study” (p.3).

(Abstractor: Author)

Full publication title: Bolstering Non-Traditional Student Success: A Comprehensive Student Aid System Using Financial Aid, Public Benefits, and Refundable Tax Credits

Major Findings & Recommendations

This paper describes a series of benefits for which postsecondary students may be eligible, including the following: • Federal financial aid • State financial aid • Public benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child care subsidies, subsidized health insurance, rental housing assistance, and Unemployment Insurance • Refundable tax credits, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) For each benefit, the paper provides general eligibility requirements, as well as the distribution affects for decision-making at the federal, state and local or institution for financial aid, public benefits programs, and refundable tax credits. It also provides related state and federal policy or legislative changes for each benefit or program. For example, the paper recommends that college enrollment be counted towards state training requirements for receiving TANF or Unemployment Insurance. In addition, the resource offers examples of how certain colleges have improved student access to benefits. “As more students turn to public benefits and other supports, such as refundable tax credits, to weave together the financial means necessary to attend and complete college, it is important that we better understand how low-income college students can combine these benefits with traditional financial aid to bridge their unmet need. Like financial aid programs, public benefits programs feature their own complex rules, some of which serve as a disincentive to low-income individuals attending college and others influence whether a student attends part- or full-time, decisions that can determine how fast a student completes and attains family-supporting employment. As our state and federal leaders have laid forth ambitious plans for increasing the number of credentials adults attain, they also need to examine whether public benefit policies are supporting these goals for a higher-skilled workforce and how policies that do not can be strengthened to do so” (p.2). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)