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.
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.
GAO-15-59: Published: Dec 22, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 2014.
GAO-15-151: Published: Dec 16, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 16, 2014.
GAO-14-324: Published: May 13, 2014. Publicly Released: May 13, 2014.
GAO-14-256: Published: Mar 6, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2014.
GAO-12-560: Published: May 18, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2012.
GAO-15-314: Published: Feb 24, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2015.
GAO-14-866T: Published: Sep 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2014.
GAO-14-426T: Published: Mar 12, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2014.
GAO-14-7: Published: Feb 18, 2014. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 2014.
GAO-14-234: Published: Jan 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2014.
GAO-13-371: Published: Apr 10, 2013. Publicly Released: May 10, 2013.
GAO-13-64: Published: Dec 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2012.
GAO-12-863T: Published: Jul 25, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2012.
GAO-12-179: Published: Jan 26, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2012.
GAO-12-143: Published: Dec 7, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2011.