Understanding the financial aid system is paramount to any state policymaker looking to increase postsecondary access, affordability and attainment. To provide this foundational knowledge, Education Commission of the States created a primer, plus state-specific profiles, showcasing how students access and use financial aid in every state across the nation. 
This primer explores the main sources of support — including federal grants, state assistance programs, loans and institutional aid — that are available to students today. Each type of program is explained in detail, with particular attention to the salient characteristics for state policymakers and the potential limitations of each stream of support.