Working Hard for the Money: Students? Entry and Exit Experiences with Financial Aid
Avery Davis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Johns Hopkins University

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
With the soaring costs of college, students (especially those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds) often enter higher education without adequate financial resources to support their experiences. To bridge this gap, students work through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, merit aid scholarship requirements, and work-study jobs to reach the postsecondary promises of social mobility. But what is the right choice? Which approach to financing college, if any, will pay off for students? My three-article dissertation quantitatively analyzes the extent to which students are securing (entry) enough financial resources to succeed (exit) in college. The project is timely, as research and reform efforts are mostly focused on student loans and are based on data from before the Great Recession. By testing causal inference models on the High School Longitudinal Study (N = 25,206), my dissertation will signal which types of work aspiring students should invest in to pay for college. In other words, what work pays off: filing financial aid forms, seeking need- and merit-based grants/scholarships, or setting up employment arrangements? While the answer to this question is vital for all, it is particularly important for ethnically and economically diverse students. The results of these analyses will form the basis of a policy brief that documents the tradeoffs for students with respect to each approach to financing their education. In addition to helping students navigate the financial aid process, I anticipate that this document will be useful in helping university, state, and federal policymakers evaluate their strategies for improving college affordability.
About Avery Davis
Avery M. D. Davis is a Ph.D. candidate in Education at Johns Hopkins University. He uses quantitative methods and large-scale data to investigate how ethnic and economic minorities navigate higher education. Specifically, he examines the extent to which financial aid programs and policies are biased against marginalized groups. In addition to the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, his research has been supported by the RAND Corporation (with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Beyond his scholarly work, Avery has written several op-eds that have been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Times Higher Education, Higher Ed Dive, The Hechinger Report, and EdSurge. Prior to his doctoral studies, Avery served as the Director of the President?s Office & Board Management at Concordia College New York; he also worked in staff roles at Valparaiso University and Purdue University. Avery holds an M.A. in Liberal Studies from The Graduate Center, City University of New York and a B.A. in Music and Chinese/Japanese Studies from Valparaiso University (Phi Beta Kappa). Avery is also an alumnus of the Disney Dreamers Academy, where he has since served as a spokesperson and mentor for diverse high school students from across the United States.

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