In the early 1980s loans begin to exceed grants as the primary form of college financial aid.
Figure 3 shows the amount of financial aid provided in each major category since 1980, in constant dollars (institutional grants are excluded, as they are treated as a discount off of tuition). In the early 1980s, federal, state, and private grants were the largest form of financial aid. But beginning in 1982, loans began to outpace grants, and since then they have remained the largest form of aid available to students to help them pay their costs of attending higher education.
The federal government had first stepped up its role in college financial aid in the 1960s.*
… The United States has long had financial aid for students, awarded in different forms (loans, grants or scholarships, government-subsidized jobs on college campuses, and tax benefits) and from different sources (federal government, state governments, higher education institutions, and private entities). The federal government first began provision of broad-based financial aid in the forms of grants and loans to students with the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965. This Act also had a provision, the State Student Incentive Grant program, which encouraged states to create their own grant programs. These programs, along with the continued expansion of institutionally-funded scholarships, have helped to subsidize the price paid by students for attending college and have also served to lessen the impact of rising “sticker” prices, or the amount charged by universities before any discount is provided.
*The G.I. Bill began offering federal education benefits to veterans in 1944.