Press Release

Toward a New Understanding of Financial Aid: Analysis from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education


CAMBRIDGE, MA | May 11, 2017 — The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new publication: Undergraduate Financial Aid in the United States, authored by Judith Scott-Clayton, associate professor of economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The publication provides an overview of undergraduate financial aid – its history, evolution, and controversies – and highlights key issues that are central to the future of higher education and the American economy. Scott-Clayton concludes that financial aid could generate even greater benefits to individuals and society by focusing on college completion in addition to college access, and by recognizing the importance of value in addition to affordability.

In the years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 into law, college-going rates have increased for students at all income levels and the earnings premium for a college degree has reached new heights. Not all of the trends are positive, though: tuition has risen dramatically in real terms, debt levels are higher, and the amount of time it takes students to finish college is longer.

Taken together, these trends suggest that financial aid – which includes $122.7 billion in federal grants and loans – should aim not only to get more students into college, but also to help ensure they complete quality programs. As Scott-Clayton writes, “the stakes have never been higher to ensure the effectiveness of financial aid – not just for the sake of those who provide it but for the sake of students themselves, who make the biggest investment of all.”

“America’s commitment to financial aid is rooted in providing opportunities for individuals to better themselves and for the betterment of our society,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Our students and our country need appropriately high standards for not only starting college but for finishing it and for the quality the educational experience. This new analysis points us toward a fair and effective approach to financial aid.”

The Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, with generous support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, is analyzing undergraduate education as part of looking ahead to the educational challenges and opportunities facing Americans. In a final report to be released in fall 2017, the Commission will recommend a strategy to improve and strengthen undergraduate education to advance the development of individuals, a broadly engaged citizenry, national prosperity, and international stature.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences received $2.2 million from Carnegie Corporation of New York to support the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. Spencer Foundation President Michael S. McPherson and TIAA President and CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. co-chair the Commission, which includes national leaders in education, business, and government. A complete list of Commission members is available on the Academy’s website.

Download Undergraduate Financial Aid in the United States

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world. Current Academy research focuses on higher education, the humanities, and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and international affairs; and American institutions and the public good. The Academy’s work is advanced by its more than 5,000 elected members, who are leaders, from around the nation and the world, in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.





Alison Franklin
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Chief Communications Officer
Twitter: @americanacad






Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education

Roger W. Ferguson and Michael S. McPherson