Research News

Best state financial aid policies focus on students with real need, use simple applications

The best state financial aid policies focus on students who would not otherwise go to college and make aid simple to apply for and keep, a new research review by Vanderbilt University higher education researcher William Doyle finds. The review has implications for federal financial aid policies.

Doyle’s findings are part of a book being published by the College Board’s Rethinking Student Aid study group. The group released its research results and recommendations Sept. 18 via a webinar for media hosted by the Hechinger Institute in Washington, D.C.

"I analyzed state student aid policies from the perspective of their focus on access, institutional choice or rewarding excellence," Doyle, assistant professor of higher education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, said. "The most effective policies are simple and targeted at students who are at the margins of enrollment. Less effective programs are complex and tend to give money to students who do not really need it."

Federal policy is often influenced by state experiences, but Doyle found that national policies sometimes re-create poorly performing state programs.

"I found that these distinctive state approaches could be instructive for thinking at the federal level, fulfilling the traditional state role as laboratories of democracy," he said. "But, federal policy tends to model itself at least as much on ineffective state approaches as on best practices."

The Rethinking Student Aid study group comprised policy experts, academic researchers and higher education professionals.

"We believe that the most important purpose of student aid is to expand the educational opportunities available to those young people and adults who face financial barriers to college enrollment and success," the group is quoted as reporting on the board’s website, The group’s final reports are available on the site.

The group will hold a policy forum in the Russell Caucus Room on Capitol Hill Oct. 7 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. ET to present their findings to members of Congress.

For more information about Peabody College, ranked as the No. 2 education school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2008, visit

Media Contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS