College students’ unmet financial need rose 23 percent in four years

The gap between the cost of college and student resources that don’t need to be repaid, like scholarships and grants, grew by 23 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to a new analysis from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Inside Higher Ed reports that this jump in unmet financial need has been felt most acutely by low-income students and students of color.

The analysis—which used federal data to explore unmet need by race, ethnicity, and institution type—found that some three in four college students experienced unmet need in the 2015-16 school year. At public two-year institutions, 71 percent of students had unmet need, averaging $4,920; at public four-year institutions, those numbers rose to 75 percent of students, with an average of $9,134.

A call for increased investment in need-based aid

“Unmet need can be considered a rough measure of our nation’s underinvestment in students that highlights the gap between expectations of affordability and reality,” wrote Lauren Walizer, a senior policy analyst with CLASP’s Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success. “When policymakers don’t address unmet need, college becomes increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible for all students but particularly students of color, who comprise a growing share of our nation’s college-going population.”

Moreover, students facing unmet need are much more likely to take out exorbitant loans and struggle to repay them later. The researchers conclude by urging federal and state governments to address the growing gap by increasing their investment in public institutions and need-based aid programs, as well as improving the FAFSA’s calculation of Estimated Family Contribution.

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