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Analyzing Student and Family-Level Effects on a Family’s Contributions to Fund a College Education

By Justin T. Rosenblum and John H. Zipf

We investigate the efficiency of the current financial aid system for prospective college students. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form reviews a family’s financial information and universities review a student’s academic prowess, but neither fully examines students and their family’s qualitative factors such as parents’ highest education level or intended major. Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, we investigate academic, financial, and familial characteristics to determine if they impact a student’s level of private loans relative to their total cost of attendance. We find that students with parents who did not receive a college degree are adversely affected by the current financial aid system. In particular, these students take out a greater amount of private loans relative to their total cost of attendance all else equal. Our finding has wider policy implications; changing the current financial aid system to assist disadvantaged students could help reduce intergenerational education inequalities. In addition, colleges could reach a broader range of students by helping
the students that currently struggle the most to pay tuition.

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Advisors: Michelle Connolly, Hugh Macartney and Kent Kimbrough | JEL Codes: I2, I22, I23

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