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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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College and other postsecondary education—including vocational, graduate, and other programs—play a vital role in supporting economic success for individuals and the nation as a whole. To expand access to postsecondary education, federal programs administered by the Departments of Education (Education) and Veterans Affairs (VA) provide billions of dollars in assistance each year. It is important to strengthen the oversight and accountability of these federal programs to ensure the programs operate for the benefit of students and taxpayers.
Specifically:

  • Improving the management and oversight of student aid programs. The federal government provides more than $100 billion annually in financial aid through grants, loans, and work-study funds to help individuals pay for postsecondary education. As the amount of federal student loan debt has grown to more than $1.4 trillion, however, many borrowers have struggled to repay and eventually defaulted on their loans. Given the growth in student loan debt and the negative consequences of default, it is important to evaluate Education’s efforts to manage and oversee the federal student loan program.
  • Strengthening accountability for student outcomes while maintaining access. The federal government provides financial assistance to students attending thousands of accredited institutions each year. However, it is difficult to assess the quality of education being provided by these schools because of challenges in the accreditation process and limitations of available measures. Evaluating efforts to strengthen accountability for student outcomes through the accreditation process and reporting measures is critical to help ensure students have access to a quality education. In addition, it is important to evaluate other programs and policies that affect higher education access and outcomes. For example, the path to a college degree for more than one-third of college students involves transferring from one school to another. Credit transfer policies, however, can result in additional costs for students due to lost credits—on average, an estimated 43 percent of credits are lost when students transfer.
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Cuppa GAO: Coffee With Our Experts - Transferring College Credits
  • portrait of Melissa Emrey-Arras
    • Melissa Emrey-Arras
    • Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    • emreyarrasm@gao.gov
    • 617.788.0534