Initiative Area

Higher Education Finance

The American higher education system is afflicted by a crisis of quality, affordability, and access that belies its role in building an equitable and just society. This has found most pernicious expression in the mounting problem of student debt, a $1.7 trillion burden affecting over 42 million people. This burden often now extends to students’ families, and is disproportionately shouldered by historically marginalized groups. Absent any meaningful constraint on college costs, the student debt trap risks putting higher education – and its promise of economic mobility – out of reach for ordinary and low-income Americans.

JFI approaches the problem of higher education finance in two principal ways. First, we analyze interlinked, nationally-representative datasets to offer a detailed picture of student debt, examining race, ethnicity and class intersections, labor markets, and the impacts of institution type and geographic concentration. With this analysis, we identify high-impact policy interventions to address the existing debt burden and the broader affordability crisis. Second, we design, consult on, and produce research on income-contingent financing, an alternative to traditional student loans under which students pledge a percent of their income over a limited period. Designed with adequate safeguards, income-contingent financing reduces students’ risk by ensuring their payments never exceed their ability to pay.


We welcome academic and philanthropic partners interested in using our student debt data for collaborative or independent research. We have collaborated with educational institutions, scholarship funds (notably, the Student Freedom Initiative), workforce development agencies, and a range of investors on income contingent finance pilots, and we welcome further inquiries. We also provide analytics, evaluation, and design consulting for existing providers in order to ensure equitable, transparent and accountable financing.


Higher Education Finance Contributors

Higher Education Finance

Eduard Nilaj

Data Science Research Associate

Empirical and Field Research

Ege Aksu


Special Projects

Francis Tseng

Lead Independent Researcher

Editorial and Communications

Halah Ahmad

Vice President, Lead Researcher for Policy

Higher Education Finance

Laura Beamer

Lead Researcher

Higher Education Finance

Marshall Steinbaum

Senior Fellow

Empirical and Field Research

Roberta Costa

Research Manager

Higher Education Finance

Sérgio Pinto


Empirical and Field Research

Sidhya Balakrishnan

Director of Research

Empirical and Field Research

Yunjie Xie


Related Publication Series

Millennial Student Debt

The Millennial Student Debt (MSD) series unites credit bureau, Census, and IPEDS data to scrutinize changes in higher education policy across the US and US territories. Posts in the series focus on, among other topics, higher education access and school concentration; the impact of the Great Recession; the growth of non-repayment; and student debt trends over the last ten years, breaking down the data by location and demographic. The maps and reports allow a detailed view of the hardships of student debt, at both the granular level of ZIP codes, and at the highest level, the country as a whole.

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