As college costs continue to increase, more and more Americans rely on federal student financial assistance programs to help pay for their postsecondary education. The number of students applying for federal financial assistance jumped 62 percent over five years, from 19.4 million in the 2007-2008 award year to nearly 31.4 million in 2011-2012. The total amount of federal financial aid awarded to students under Title IV of the Higher Education Act has also increased dramatically. Over the 10 years from 2001-2002 to 2011-2012 it rose 140 percent--from $72.3 billion to an estimated $173.8 billion. (U.S. Department of Education).
Despite the demonstrable and continually increasing importance of federal student aid, the majority of Americans have little knowledge of the Title IV programs or the processes necessary to apply for these funds. Meanwhile, members of Congress have been debating the best ways to reform and strengthen the federal aid programs. It is important that Congress and the general public understand these programs and the students they serve. In an effort to increase knowledge of these vital programs, NASFAA provides the National Student Aid Profile, updated annually.