Student Aid Design, Academic Achievement, and Labor Market Behavior: Grants or Loans?

50 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2017 Last revised: 28 Aug 2020

See all articles by Juanna Schrøter Joensen

Juanna Schrøter Joensen

University of Chicago; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Elena Mattana

Aarhus University

Date Written: August 29, 2019


How does financial aid design affect student behavior and achievement? We first estimate the impact of a study-aid reform that caused students to work more and accumulate less debt. To quantify mechanisms and perform counterfactuals, we estimate a dynamic model of college enrollment, work, and loan take-up decisions. We find that grants have stronger effects on student behavior, student debt, and human capital when alternative income and borrowing opportunities are costlier. Loan repayment conditions affect dropout rates 3-4 times more when grants are 5% of aid compared to 50%. Individuals with lower endowments find income-contingent loans more beneficial and their human capital is more sensitive to aid policies. Financial aid design can close the initial endowment gap in dropout rates, but it only reduces the gap in 4-year college degrees by 12% as most of the marginal graduates attain shorter degree programs with low labor market return.

Keywords: Student Aid, Grants and Loans, Education and Labor Market Outcomes, Dynamic Discrete Choice

JEL Classification: D90, H52, I21, I22, I28, J22, J24, J31

Suggested Citation

Joensen, Juanna Schrøter and Mattana, Elena, Student Aid Design, Academic Achievement, and Labor Market Behavior: Grants or Loans? (August 29, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Juanna Schrøter Joensen (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Elena Mattana

Aarhus University ( email )

Nordre Ringgade 1
Aarhus, 8000

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