My 2020 Higher Education Finance Reading List

I am excited to teach a graduate-level class in higher education finance to my Seton Hall students for the first time since the fall of 2017. Since the field is moving quickly and the course covers a large number of topics, I don’t use a textbook for the course. (Saving students some money is also an added bonus!) I posted my reading list for the fall 2017 class, and I’m happy to be sharing the updated list for this course.

Here is the reading list I am assigning my students for the course, which is my best effort to capture the current state of knowledge in higher education finance. I teach students who are primarily administrators and practitioners, so I especially value articles that are clearly-written and explain research methods in a concise manner. I link to the final versions of the articles whenever possible, but those without access to an academic library should note that earlier versions of many of these articles are available online via a quick Google search.


The higher education finance landscape and data sources

Lumina Foundation video on how the federal government distributes financial aid to students:

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Saez, E., Turner, N., & Yagan, D. (2017). Mobility report cards: The role of colleges in intergenerational mobility. Working paper. (link)

Madzelan, D. (2013). The politics of student aid. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute. (link)

Schanzenbach, D. W., Bauer, L., & Breitwieser, A. (2017). Eight economic facts on higher education. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project. (link)

Recommended data sources:

College Scorecard: (underlying data at

Equality of Opportunity Project:


NCES Data Lab:

ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer:

Urban Institute’s Data Explorer:


Institutional budgeting

Anguiano, M. R., & Rodriguez, J. (2017). Redesigning a budget model with a grassroots approach. Planning for Higher Education Journal, 45(3), 134-144. (link)

Barr, M.J., & McClellan, G.S. (2010). Understanding budgets. In Budgets and financial management in higher education (pp. 55-85). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (link)

Rutherford, A., & Rabovsky, T. (2018). Does the motivation for market-based reform matter? The case of responsibility-centered management. Public Administration Review, 78(4), 626-639. (link)

Seton Hall’s FY 2018 Forms 990 and 990-T to the Internal Revenue Service:

The College of New Jersey’s FY 2018 audited financial statements:

Credit rating reports for The College of New Jersey:

Information on The College of New Jersey’s budgeting cycle:


Policy analysis and higher education finance

DesJardins, S.L. (2001). Understanding and using efficiency and equity criteria in the study of higher education policy. In J.C. Smart & W.G. Tierney (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 17 (pp. 173-220). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (link)

Heller, D. E. (2017). Financial aid research: The nexus of academic, practitioner, and policy work. Journal of Student Financial Aid, 47(3), 97-104. (link)

Ness, E. C. (2010). The role of information in the policy process: Implications for the examination of research utilization in higher education policy. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 25 (pp. 1-49). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. (link)

Toutkoushian, R., & Raghav, M. (forthcoming). Estimated profit: A look at the excess revenues of private four-year nonprofit postsecondary institutions. Education Finance and Policy. (link)


Federal sources of revenue

Bergman, P., Denning, J. T., & Manoli, D. (2019). Is information enough? The effect of information about education tax benefits on student outcomes. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 38(3), 706-731. (link)

Cellini, S. R. (2010). Financial aid and for-profit colleges: Does aid encourage entry? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 29(3), 526-552. (link)

Gibbons, M. T. (2019). Higher education R&D funding from all sources increased for the third straight year in FY 2018. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation. (link)

Kelchen, R. (2019). An empirical examination of the Bennett Hypothesis in law school prices. Economics of Education Review. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2019.101915. (link)

Mok, S., & Shakin, J. (2018). Distribution of federal support for students pursuing higher education in 2016. Washington, DC: Congressional Budget Office. (link)


State sources of revenue

Doyle, W., & Zumeta, W. (2014). State-level responses to the access and completion challenge in the new era of austerity. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 655, 79-98. (link)

Kolbe, T., & Baker, B. (2019). Fiscal equity and America’s community colleges. The Journal of Higher Education, 90(1), 111-149. (link)

Ortagus, J. C., Kelchen, R., Rosinger, K. O., & Voorhees, N. (2019). Performance-based funding in American higher education: A systematic synthesis of the intended and unintended consequences. Working paper. (I will be able to share it soon!)

State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (2019). State higher education finance: FY 2018. Boulder, CO: Author. (link)

Webber, D. A. (2017). State divestment and tuition at public institutions. Economics of Education Review, 60, 1-4. (link)


Higher education expenditures

Archibald, R. B., & Feldman, D. H. (2018). Drivers of the rising price of a college education. Minneapolis, MN: Midwestern Higher Education Compact. (link)

Cheslock, J. J., & Knight, D. B. (2015). Diverging revenues, cascading expenditures, and ensuing subsidies: The unbalanced and growing financial strain of intercollegiate athletics on universities and their students. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(3), 417-447. (link)

Commonfund Institute (2018). 2018 higher education price index. Wilton, CT: Author. (link)

Hemelt, S. W., Stange, K. M., Furquim, F., Simon, A., & Sawyer, J. E. (2018). Why is math cheaper than English? Understanding cost differences in higher education. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 25314. (link)

Hurlburt, S., & McGarrah, M. (2016). Cost savings or cost shifting? The relationship between part-time contingent faculty and institutional spending. New York, NY: TIAA Institute. (link)


College pricing, tuition revenue, and endowments

Baum, S., & Lee, V. (2018). Understanding endowments. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. (link)

Burd, S., Fishman, R., Keane, L., & Habbert, J. (2018). Decoding the cost of college: The case for transparent financial aid award letters. Washington, DC: New America. (link)

Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kendall, N. (2016). The real price of college. New York, NY: The Century Foundation. (link)

Jaquette, O., Curs, B. R., & Posselt, J. R. (2016). Tuition rich, mission poor: Nonresident enrollment growth and the socioeconomic and racial composition of public research universities. Journal of Higher Education, 87(5), 635-673. (link)

Kramer II, D. A., Ortagus, J. C., & Lacy, T. A. (2018). Tuition-setting authority and broad-based merit aid: The effect of policy intersection on pricing strategies. Research in Higher Education, 59(4), 489-518. (link)

Ma, J., Baum, S., Pender, M., & Libassi, C. (2019). Trends in college pricing 2019. New York, NY: The College Board. (link)


Financial aid policies, practices, and impacts

Anderson, D. M., Broton, K. M., Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kelchen, R. (2019). Experimental evidence on the impacts of need-based financial aid: Longitudinal assessment of the Wisconsin Scholars Grant. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. doi: 10.1002/pam.22190. (link)

Baum, S., Ma, J., Pender, M., & Libassi, C. (2019). Trends in student aid 2019. New York, NY: The College Board. (link)

Bird, K., & Castleman, B. L. (2016). Here today, gone tomorrow? Investigating rates and patterns of financial aid renewal among college freshmen. Research in Higher Education, 57(4), 395-422. (link)

Nguyen, T. D., Kramer, J. W., & Evans, B. J. (2019). The effects of grant aid on student persistence and degree attainment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 89(6), 831-874. (link)

Schudde, L., & Scott-Clayton, J. (2016). Pell Grants as performance-based scholarships? An examination of satisfactory academic progress requirements in the nation’s largest need-based aid program. Research in Higher Education, 57(8), 943-967. (link)


Free college

Deming, D. J. (2017). Increasing college completion with a federal higher education matching grant. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project. (link)

Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kelly, A. P. (2016). Should community college be free? Education Next, 16(1), 54-60. (link)

Murphy, R., Scott-Clayton, J., & Wyness, G. (2017). Lessons from the end of free college in England. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution. (link)

Perna, L. W., Leigh, E. W., & Carroll, S. (2018). “Free college:” A new and improved state approach to increasing educational attainment? American Behavioral Scientist, 61(14), 1740-1756. (link)

Map of college promise/free college programs:


Student debt and financing college

Boatman, A., Evans, B. J., & Soliz, A. (2017). Understanding loan aversion in education: Evidence from high school seniors, community college students, and adults. AERA Open, 3(1), 1-16. (link)

Gonzalez, J., Ahlman, L., & Fung, A. (2019). Student debt and the class of 2018. Oakland, CA: The Institute for College Access and Success. (link)

Houle, J. N., & Warner, C. (2017). Into the red and back to the nest? Student debt, college completion, and returning to the parental home among young adults. Sociology of Education, 90(1), 89-108. (link)

Kelchen, R., & Li. A. Y. (2017). Institutional accountability: A comparison of the predictors of student loan repayment and default rates. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 671, 202-223. (link)

Ritter, D., & Webber, D. (2019). Modern income-share agreements in postsecondary education: Features, theory, applications. Philadelphia, PA: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Discussion Paper 19-06. (link)

Scott-Clayton, J. (2018). What accounts for gaps in student loan default, and what happens after. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Evidence Speaks Report #57. (link)


Returns to education

Deterding, N. M., & Pedulla, D. S. (2016). Educational authority in the “open door” marketplace: Labor market consequences of for-profit, nonprofit, and fictional educational credentials. Sociology of Education, 89(3), 155-170. (link)

Doyle, W. R., & Skinner, B. T. (2017). Does postsecondary education result in civic benefits? The Journal of Higher Education, 88(6), 863-893. (link)

Giani, M. S. (2016). Are all colleges equally equalizing? How institutional selectivity impacts socioeconomic disparities in graduates’ labor outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 39(3), 431-461. (link)

Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Education pays 2016: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: The College Board. (link)

Webber, D. A. (2016). Are college costs worth it? How ability, major, and debt affect the returns to schooling. Economics of Education Review, 53, 296-310. (link)


The financial viability of higher education

Ducoff, N. (2019, December 9). Students pay the price if a college fails. So why are we protecting failing institutions? The Hechinger Report. (link)

EY-Parthenon (2018). Transitions in higher education: Safeguarding the interests of students. New York, NY: Author. (link)

Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (2019). Final report & recommendations. Transitions in higher education: Safeguarding the interest of students (THESIS). Boston, MA: Author. (link)

Sullivan, G. W., & Stergios, J. (2019). A risky proposal for private colleges: Ten reasons why the Board of Higher Education must rethink its plan. Boston, MA: Pioneer Institute. (link)

Tarrant, M., Bray, N., & Katsinas, S. (2018). The invisible colleges revisited: An empirical review. The Journal of Higher Education, 89(3), 341-367. (link)

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

7 thoughts on “My 2020 Higher Education Finance Reading List”

  1. Wow! Thank you, Robert. This is such a precious gift for those of us who continue to be students of higher education finance.

  2. Great one stop shop for higher ed research. Do you cover anything about the Internet’s impact (current and future) on higher ed? Though real research is harder to find because much of this is forward looking would think things like the economics of OPM’s, MOOCs, “megauniversities” and the marketing economics of how they for that way, potential impact of new employer intermediaries, unbundling, etc. would be relevant.

    1. I talk about course-level costs in this class, but I don’t talk much about the Internet here. I do more of this in another class on the organization and governance of higher ed.

  3. This is a great compilation of readings. I know the selection is good because of the overlap from the assigned readings at my master’s program (e.g., Barr and McClellan and Weimer and Vining). Awesome choices!

    1. P.S.

      What are your thoughts on “guaranteed” or flat-rate tuition programs? The literature is not generous but suggest more pitfalls than benefits.

      1. Based on Jennifer Delaney’s research, I’m skeptical that guaranteed tuition programs improve affordability. And I have looked at student fees as a way for colleges to get around tuition caps. Basically, colleges get their revenue from somewhere regardless of the limitations someone tries to put in place.

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