State Financial Aid Redesign Critical to Support Today’s Students

by Alison Griffin


State financial aid policies are out of sync with the needs of today’s students, according to a policy brief released this week by the Education Commission of the States. Absent shifts in four core areas, aid policies may very well impede states’ ambitious college access and completion goals by failing to account for the unique needs and challenges of students who are older, more mobile, and more likely to be working than at any point in our nation’s history. Redesigning State Financial Aid: Principles to Guide State Aid Policymaking, which is rooted in a collaboration among finance experts, policymakers, and consumer advocates, is designed to offer practical insights for state policymakers to consider when designing financial aid programs.


I have had the opportunity to participate twice in this state financial aid redesign work, as a contributor to each of ECS’ two Thinkers’ Meetings over the years. But the work with ECS has been about more than discussions. Through this multi-year effort, our conversations resulted in the development of four focused, actionable principles for state financial aid redesign. And, since the release of the first paper, over 20 states have received technical assistance from ECS and worked toward adopting policies that align with these principles.


The four principles of state financial aid redesign are:

  • Student Centered: Aid programs that are designed around students and their needs set students up for successful outcomes. Defining students as the primary beneficiaries of state financial aid allows for alignment of state goals and institutional practice to best serve students.

  • Goal-Driven and Data-Informed: Aid programs should have a clearly defined and easily understood intent, aligned with measurable state education and workforce goals. Recognizing that reaching goals takes time, and identifying progress or momentum points, will provide valuable opportunities to identify problems early and make mid-course corrections.

  • Timely and Flexible: Aid programs should provide financial support to students when it can have the greatest impact on enrollment and persistence decisions. Promises of aid should be made as early as possible, even before the student chooses to enroll.

  • Broadly Inclusive: Aid programs should respond to the diverse enrollment options available to students. As the variety of educational delivery models and enrollment options available to students continues to diversify, aid programs should adapt to allow for students to select options best designed to meet their needs.


A copy of the brief is available here and provides an explanation of each of the four principles, offers ideas for putting the principle into practice and also highlights how each principle can be incorporated into policy.