Key Issues > Postsecondary Education Access and Affordability
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Postsecondary Education Access and Affordability

Given the importance of postsecondary education in ensuring the financial stability of individuals and the global competitiveness of the nation, the federal government provides financial assistance to help students and their families cover the cost of attendance.

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The federal government provides billions of dollars each year to help students and their families cover the cost of postsecondary education through programs administered by the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs. The federal government also supports postsecondary access through tax expenditures—including tax credits, deductions, exemptions, and tax-preferred savings programs—that reduce federal tax liabilities. Given the nation’s current fiscal constraints, it will be important to: (1) strengthen coordination and oversight of federal programs and policies that support access to and affordability of postsecondary education and (2) safeguard these funds for future students.

  • Improving alignment of federal student aid and tax expenditures. Multiple federal programs and tax provisions are available to help individuals pay for postsecondary education, but the range of options may make it difficult for them to understand and apply for assistance. In addition, little is known about the effects of federal assistance on student outcomes, such as completion.
  • Strengthening accountability for student outcomes while maintaining access. The federal government provides financial assistance to students attending thousands of accredited institutions each year. However, relatively little is known about the quality of education being provided by these schools. Because few direct measures are available, indirect measures—such as graduation and student loan default rates—are often used to measure quality. While no single outcome can be used to measure something as complex as educational quality, examining multiple outcomes can shed light on the quality of education being provided.
  • Promoting choice and innovation while protecting the federal investment. While substantial growth in distance education may support postsecondary access, it also presents oversight challenges for the federal government. For example, concerns have been raised about the ability of schools to verify the identity and attendance of students enrolled in distance education programs.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

More Reports

Higher Education: Experts Cited a Range of Requirements as Burdensome
http://gao.gov/products/GAO-13-371

GAO-13-371: Published: Apr 10, 2013. Publicly Released: May 10, 2013.
Higher Education: A Small Percentage of Families Save in 529 Plans
http://gao.gov/products/GAO-13-64

GAO-13-64: Published: Dec 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2012.
Higher Education: Improved Tax Information Could Help Pay for College
http://gao.gov/products/GAO-12-863T

GAO-12-863T: Published: Jul 25, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2012.
More...

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Veterans' Education BenefitsTuesday, May 13, 2014
College Textbook InformationThursday, June 6, 2013
  • portrait of Melissa Emrey-Arras
    • Melissa Emrey-Arras
    • Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    • emreyarrasm@gao.gov
    • 617.788.0534