On SAGE Insight: Research finds that financial aid (as it’s currently used)  is not the answer to college affordability

From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Why are some students, especially those who are first generation college students or from low-income households, not applying for or consistently receiving financial aid? According to this paper the aid system must be redesigned to earn the trust of students and their families and to help them believe that it can make college affordable.

“Many Americans are priced out of college today, as the current financial aid system fails to meet their needs,” commented Goldrick-Rab and Kolbe. “We argue that making college affordable will require building a new and trustworthy financing system for higher education—one that its participants can believe in.”


The rising price of higher education threatens educational opportunity and social mobility for the most vulnerable Americans. Increasing college attendance benefits individuals and society, but efforts to reduce the price via financial aid rely primarily on economic theory: emphasizing short-term investments for long-term gains, and aiming for efficiency by targeting a narrow band of the population. Yet financial aid as currently implemented fails to effectively counter price barriers to college attainment. We argue that these failures are due, in part, to policies that were built on a narrow set of behavioral assumptions about the role of pricing in individuals’ decisions to attend college. Insights from social psychology highlight decisions’ relational processes and contexts. Existing policy failures have eroded public trust in financial aid as a legitimate, viable mechanism for college affordability. Cost-effective reforms that rebuild trust are a promising direction for future policy making.

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Article details
Sara Goldrick-Rab and
Tammy Kolbe
A Matter of Trust: Applying Insights From Social Psychology to Make College Affordable
Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences October 2016 3: 237-244,doi:10.1177/2372732216656457



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