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Highlights

In 1991 the U.S. Department of Justice sued nine colleges and universities, alleging that they had restrained competition by making collective financial aid determinations for students accepted to more than one of these schools. Against the backdrop of this litigation, Congress enacted a temporary exemption from antitrust laws for higher education institutions in 1992. The exemption allows limited collaboration regarding financial aid practices with the goal of promoting equal access to education. The exemption applies only to institutional financial aid and can only be used by schools that admit students without regard to ability to pay. In passing an extension to the exemption in 2001, Congress directed GAO to study the effects of the exemption. GAO examined (1) how many schools used the exemption and what joint practices they implemented, (2) trends in costs and institutional grant aid at schools using the exemption, (3) how expected family contributions at schools using the exemption compare to those at similar schools not using the exemption, and (4) the effects of the exemption on affordability and enrollment. GAO surveyed schools, analyzed school and student-level data, and developed econometric models. GAO used extensive peer review to obtain comments from outside experts and made changes as appropriate.

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