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2020 NCES Study Shows 72% of Undergraduates Received Financial Aid, 40% from Pell Grants

According to data from the 2019-20 NCES National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), 72% of undergraduate students received some form of financial aid, and of those, 40% received Pell Grants, up from 39% in 2015-16. The average amount of aid overall was $14,100.

The comprehensive study and First Look report was compiled of data from 80,800 undergraduate and 19,700 graduate student survey respondents attending approximately 2,200 institutions in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Administrative data were also collected for about 196,000 undergraduate students who did not take the survey.

Data were broken down by "type of institution attended, gender, race/ethnicity, attendance pattern, income level; and percentages and average amounts of financial aid additionally described by dependency status for undergraduate students and by graduate program for graduate students," the report explains.

Although the percentage of undergraduate students receiving federal aid in 2015-16 and 2019-20 remained the same (55%), the nature of the aid has changed, said NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr, noting that the study data "show the role that financial aid plays in financing undergraduates' education."

While Pell Grant aid (an average of $4,100) increased, Direct Loans decreased, she noted, from 36% to 34% between the two studies. In addition to the 55% of undergraduates receiving federal aid, 23% received state aid and 28% institution aid. Federal aid, including loans, amounted to an average of $8,700, the report notes, more than double state aid.

Some other significant findings include:

  • Undergraduate aid breakdown: 64% grants, 36% personal student loans, 5% work study awards, 2% veterans' benefits, 4% Direct PLUS federal loans.
  • Male undergraduate aid: 68%; female: 64%; genderqueer, gender nonconforming, or a different gender identity: 67%.
  • Average undergraduate aid amounts for non-Hispanic White: $8,800; non-Hispanic Black: $9,700; Hispanic or Latino of any race and non-Hispanic of other races: $7,000 to $7,500; non-Hispanic Asian: $9,100;
  • Graduate students receiving aid (74%) averaged $25,300: $11,300 from grants, $18,800 in graduate assistantships, $26,000 in loans, $18,700 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and an average of $25,100 in Direct PLUS Loans).

To download and print the report, report summary, and supplemental state-level tables, visit the NPSAS 2019-20 page.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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