ITP | Effects of Financial Aid Policy on Short- and Long-Term Individual Outcomes

October 7, 2022, Noon-1:30 pm Central Time

259 Educational Sciences and Zoom

Fabian Pfeffer

Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Michigan

Fabian Pfeffer

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The Higher Education Act (HEA) is the central federal legislation regulating the financing of higher education and student financial aid. The HEA reauthorization of 1992 introduced pronounced shifts in student financial aid. We take advantage of this policy change to identify the heterogeneous impact of federal financial aid on not just the short-term college outcomes of students, such as college access and graduation, but also on longer-term and broader outcomes, including their later economic well-being and demographic transitions. First, we draw on the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study to trace changes in federal aid and federal loans entailed by the HEA-1992 reform. We find that after the policy change students tended to access more money in federal aid, particularly in the form of federal loans. Second, we draw on the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which provides rich measures of the socio-economic background of students during high school as well as their own educational outcomes (college access and college graduation), their adult family income, wealth, home ownership, debt, partnership status, and fertility during adulthood. Drawing on a novel difference-in-difference approach, our results suggest that the policy change did not entail direct effects on college access and graduation but that substantial impacts emerge during later stages of the life-course: Those students who have gained additional access to financial aid thanks to the policy reform were able to achieve higher incomes, lower debt burdens, higher home ownership rates, and even increased their childbearing. As such, the HEA-1992 is one example of an educational policy that impacts non-educational outcomes more so than educational outcomes, once we can trace its longer-term impacts.