Innovative approaches to addressing financial aid, structural inequities, key to removing barriers to higher education, new APLU & TIAA Institute research finds

Washington, DC, June 10, 2021 – Enhancing financial assistance programs and confronting racial and socioeconomic inequities are critical to addressing college affordability and student debt challenges, according to research released today by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Powered by Publics initiative and TIAA Institute

The new research investigates best practices and possible long-term reforms to current financial aid approaches by examining leading-edge approaches underway at nine Powered by Publics institutions. Approaches include one-stop centers for emergency aid and services to meet students’ financial and non-academic needs; completion and retention grants; institutional debt forgiveness; open educational resources; and industry partnerships that help students work, learn, and earn.

“The past year has magnified the scale of student financial need and underscored the urgency of addressing it through reform and the development of targeted, multifaceted innovations,” said Alcione Frederick, Assistant Director in APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation, who led the research. “We know cost barriers disproportionately impact Black, Latinx, first-generation, and low-income students and that the pandemic has exacerbated these long-standing inequities. We’re excited to release this research today to showcase effective approaches institutions can take to address financial barriers that contribute to these inequities.”

“Innovative financial aid policies and practices are making a tremendous difference in closing the higher education affordability gap,” added Anne Ollen, Managing Director, TIAA Institute. “This initiative helped to shine a light on the essential work of college and university financial aid and student affairs professionals, among others who focus on helping students manage the costs of getting to and through degree completion. We need to increase awareness and keep the momentum going.”

Powered by Publics initiative has convened nearly 125 higher education institutions within 16 “transformation clusters” – reaching 3 million undergraduate students, including 1 million Pell Grant recipients. These clusters are advancing collaborative work in thematic areas of affordability, holistic student support, and teaching and learning. Each are focused on solving different pieces of the student success puzzle as public universities work together to tear down long-standing barriers, advance equity, eliminate the achievement gap, prepare students to thrive in the 21st century workforce, and collectively increase the number of degrees they award.

The new research follows previous briefs examining college affordability landscape and equitable financial innovations, as well as an examination of the disbursement on emergency aid made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Cleveland State University; Rutgers University-Newark; University of Cincinnati; University of Louisville; University of North Texas; the University of Texas at San Antonio; Virginia Commonwealth University; Wayne State University; and West Virginia University participated in this study.

Click here to view the latest brief and find all of APLU’s and the TIAA Institute’s research on financial aid innovations for college affordability and mitigating student debt here.

[View more information on the areas where Powered by Publics institutions are working]

Press contact: Mike Brost (APLU), 202-487-6038 / TIAA Media Team, 888-200-4062, 

About APLU
APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  With a membership of 244 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations, APLU's agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement.  Annually, member campuses enroll 5.0 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.3 million degrees, employ 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct $49.2 billion in university-based research.

About the TIAA Institute
The TIAA Institute helps advance the ways individuals and institutions plan for financial security and organizational effectiveness. The institute conducts in-depth research, provides access to a network of thought leaders, and enables those it serves to anticipate trends, plan future strategies and maximize opportunities for success. For more information about the TIAA Institute, visit

About TIAA
With an award-winning  track record for consistent investment performance, TIAA ( is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields. TIAA has $1.3 trillion in assets under management (as of 3/31/2021) and offers a wide range of financial solutions, including investing, banking, advice and education, and retirement services.