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University of Wisconsin Madison
Powered by Publics

Julia Michaels
Executive Director
Center for Public
University Transformation
(202) 478-6071

Media Contact:
Mike Brost
Assistant Director
of Public Affairs
(202) 478-6038

APLU and TIAA Institute College Affordability Fellowship

To better understand, address, and improve the challenges related to college affordability and student debt, 9 institutions have been selected to participate in a collaboration between the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities' Powered by Publics initiative and TIAA Institute to investigate best practices and possible long-term reformation to current financial aid approaches.

COVID-19 has unearthed systemic and institutional impediments that exacerbate the equity disparities that campuses are trying to address. Higher education institutions are working in real-time to find solutions to support incoming and current students and these elements will be captured in collaboration with institutions and placed in context of establishing long-term solutions in the face of a changing landscape. APLU and the TIAA Institute have co-released an initial brief examining the COVID-19 pandemic, college affordability, and student debt.

The fellow institutions are: Cleveland State University; Rutgers University-Newark; University of Cincinnati; University of Louisville; University of North Texas; University of Texas at San Antonio; Virginia Commonwealth University; Wayne State University; and West Virginia University. As fellows, these institutions will examine how stimulus funds from the CARES Act were distributed to Title IV-eligible students, and how different processes or methods may ultimately result in disparate impact on various populations, including student veterans, undocumented students, low- and middle-income students, and students of color. They will also be examining how the pandemic has exacerbated existing affordability barriers and student debt for minoritized student populations, including how universities can collect disaggregated data to examine the racialized impact of financial aid policies and practices. By explicitly taking an equity lens for this research, fellows will have deeper discussions and improve the evidence base for financial aid innovations that impact affordability and student debt, particularly for students most affected by COVID-19.

The fellows will be diving into a set of financial innovations that include:

  • Debt forgiveness programs for returning students with a balance;
  • Textbook scholarships, low-cost rentals, and use of Open Educational Resources (OER);
  • Completion grants, retention grants, and emergency aid;
  • Partnerships with industry for tuition reimbursement and scholarships, Individual Training Accounts (ITA)s for adult learners;
  • Income Share Agreements (ISAs), in which students agree to give up a percentage of future income in exchange for tuition today.

Project Highlights

  • Nearly 125 change-ready universities and state systems
  • 16 transformation clusters
  • 3 million undergraduates

Project Goals

  • Produce hundreds of thousands more graduates by 2025 with an emphasis on underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students.
  • Cut in half the achievement gap by 2025 for underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students while increasing access.
  • Share key data, learning, and effective practices to drive innovation and transformation across the higher education sector.


Four strategic priorities guide Powered by Publics work. They are:

  1. Taking explicit action to pursue educational equity for low-income, first-generation, and students of color.
  2. Committing to transparency by sharing data and monitoring progress toward equity goals.
  3. Developing common opportunities for cross-cluster learning, sharing, and collective action in the thematic areas of Affordability, Holistic Student Supports, and Teaching & Learning.
  4. APLU and its partners committing to invest in institutional capacity through grants and technical assistance.