PEDAR: Executive Summary Independent Undergraduates: 1999-2000
Who Are Independent Students?
Demographic Characteristics of Independent Students
Independent Status by Age, Class Level, and Family Responsibilities
Education Financing
Financial Aid by Type of Institution
Research Methodology
Full Report (PDF)
Executive Summary (PDF)

This report provides a comprehensive look at independent students who were enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States and Puerto Rico in 1999-2000. Under federal financial aid policy, parents have the primary responsibility for financing their children's education, unless the student is considered to be financially independent of his or her parents. Independent students are assumed to be financially self-sufficient and no longer dependent upon their parents to support them or finance their education. They are either at an age at which they are expected to be financially independent, or they have family responsibilities (i.e., are married and/or have children) or other characteristics that require institutions and financial aid administrators to treat them as adults with certain needs that differ from those of dependent students. For federal financial aid purposes, undergraduate students automatically qualify for independent status if they are age 24 or older. Those younger than age 24 may qualify for independent status if they are married, have dependents of their own, are military veterans, or are orphans or wards of the court (figure A). In addition, some otherwise dependent students may be considered independent due to unusual personal circumstances. Financial aid administrators have the authority to use their "professional judgment" to make these determinations.1

This study uses data from the 1999-2000 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study to compare independent and dependent students and distinguish among independent students based on family status and age. Independent students are categorized by their family responsibilities in the following manner: single, no children; married, no children; single parents; and married parents. Family responsibilities are taken into account when determining financial aid eligibility. This study presents in detail how these groups differ with respect to their demographic characteristics, where they attend college, whether they attend full time or part time, what they study, and how they finance their education. Standard t tests were used in the analysis to determine statistical significance at the p < .05 significance level.

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