Susan Dynarski

Professor of Education, Harvard University
Faculty Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research

About Susan

Dynarski teaches economics, statistics and education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where her research focuses on college costs, charter schools, inequality and financial aid for college. She is a nationally recognized expert, ranking among the top ten most influential economists working on education policy. She is frequently quoted in news outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She has testified about education and tax policy before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and the President's Commission on Tax Reform.


Making Loans Work for Today's College Students

In the News

Quoted by James Kvaal in "The Gaping, Recession-Sized Hole in 2020 College Plans," The New York Times, October 23, 2019.
Quoted by Alia Wong in "Back-to-School Night Is Hard for Single Parents," The Atlantic, September 18, 2019.
Opinion: "Fresh Proof That Strong Unions Help Reduce Income Inequality," Susan Dynarski, The New York Times, July 6, 2018.
Quoted by Fred Thys in "Harvard's Admissions Are Biased Against Asian-Americans, Group Claims," WBUR, June 15, 2018.
Research discussed by Catherine Gewertz, in "Low-Income Students: More Going to College, but Few Earning Degrees," Education Week, May 17, 2018.
Opinion: "How to Clean up the Student Loan Mess," Susan Dynarski, The New York Times, April 6, 2018.
Opinion: "An International Final Four: Which Country Handles Student Debt Best?," Susan Dynarski (with Matthew Chingos), The New York Times, April 2, 2018.
Interviewed in "Has Student Loan Debt Reached a Crisis Point?," WBUR, February 27, 2018.
Interviewed in "Australia, England Offer Clues on How to Fix America’s Student Loan Mess," Michigan Radio, February 7, 2018.
Quoted by Jeffrey R. Young in "EdX Quietly Developing 'MicroBachelors' Program," EdSurge, January 25, 2018.
Quoted by Ryan Craig in "Unsafe at Any Speed? Seatbelts for Online Learning," Forbes, January 25, 2018.
Quoted by Jeffrey Dorfman in "Other Countries Can Teach Us How Income-Based Student Loan Repayments Should Work," Forbes, January 22, 2018.
Opinion: "Online Courses are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, January 19, 2018.
Quoted by Erin Vogel-Vox in "Senators Strive to Simplify the Federal Student Loans Process," WJLA, January 18, 2018.
Opinion: "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, November 22, 2017.
Opinion: "How Universal College Admission Tests Help Low-Income Students," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, July 14, 2017.
Opinion: "The Wrong Way to Fix Student Debt," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, May 6, 2017.
Opinion: "Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don’t Buy It," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, December 30, 2016.
Opinion: "With Trump, Investors See Profits Again in For-Profit Colleges," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, November 18, 2016.
Quoted by David Leonhardt in "Schools That Work," New York Times, November 4, 2016.
Opinion: "At Last, Your Financial Aid Ordeal Has Gotten Easier," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, September 16, 2016.
Opinion: "Why American Schools are Even More Unequal than We Thought," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, August 12, 2016.
Opinion: "America Can Fix Its Student Loan Crisis. Just Ask Australia.," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, July 9, 2016.
Research discussed by Gail Marks Jarvis, in "Research Debunks Notion That Debt-Laden Grads Won't be Buying Homes," Chicago Tribune, May 13, 2016.
Opinion: "Why Talented Black and Hispanic Students Can Go Undiscovered," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, April 8, 2016.
Quoted by Maggie McGrath in "The Best Way to Fix the Student Debt Crisis (and It's Not Free Tuition)," Forbes, January 7, 2016.
Opinion: "The Trouble with Student Loans? Low Earnings, Not High Debt," Susan Dynarski, Brookings Institution, January 7, 2016.
Research discussed by Beckie Supiano, in "Sensible Explainer: Susan Dynarski," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 13, 2015.
Opinion: "A Suburban-Urban Divide in Charter School Success Rates," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, November 20, 2015.
Opinion: "Applying for Financial Aid is about to Get Easier," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, September 24, 2015.
Opinion: "New Data Gives Clearer Picture of Student Debt," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, September 10, 2015.
Quoted by Abby Jackson in "Here's the Explanation for a Weird Student Debt Trend in America," Business Insider, September 2, 2015.
Quoted by in "Time to Fix the Fafsa," New York Times, August 27, 2015.
Opinion: "Fafsa Follies: To Gain a Student, Eliminate a Form," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, August 21, 2015.
Opinion: "When Guarding Student Data Endangers Valuable Research," Susan Dynarski, The Washington Post, June 13, 2015.
Quoted by Sam Hayes in "Report Finds Graduation Gap between High- and Low-Income Students," U.S. News and World Report, June 12, 2015.
Opinion: "For the Poor, the Graduation Gap is Even Wider than the Enrollment Gap," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, June 2, 2015.
Quoted by Jonathan Chait in "Studies Show Paul Ryan is Wrong and Obama is Right: You Didn’t Build That," New York Magazine, June 2, 2015.
Quoted by Jillian Berman in "The Ivy League’s Hidden Poor," Market Watch, April 22, 2015.
Opinion: "We’re Frighteningly in the Dark about Student Debt," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, March 20, 2015.
Quoted by Russell Berman in "Birth of a Tax Loophole," The Atlantic, March 16, 2015.
Quoted by Kim Clark in "6 Ways the New ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’ Will Help Borrowers," Time, March 10, 2015.
Opinion: "Helping the Poor in Education: The Power of a Simple Nudge," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, January 17, 2015.
Quoted by Anya Kamenetz in "The Fate of the Administration's College Ratings," National Public Radio, December 19, 2014.
Research discussed by Thomas Dresslar, in "FAFSA Desperately Needs Simplification," Northwest Missourian, November 20, 2014.
Opinion: "Why Federal College Ratings Won’t Rein In Tuition," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, September 20, 2014.
Opinion: "What We Mean When We Say Student Debt is Bad," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, August 8, 2014.
Opinion: "Study on Parental Longevity is Short on Causation," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, August 6, 2014.
Opinion: "A Closer Look at Simplifying Financial Aid Applications," Susan Dynarski (with Mark Wiederspan), New York Times, July 1, 2014.
Opinion: "There is a Simpler Way for Students to Apply for Financial Aid," Susan Dynarski (with Judith Scott-Clayton), New York Times, June 20, 2014.
Opinion: "Finding Shock Absorbers for Student Debt," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, June 14, 2014.
Opinion: "Remember the Problem with Mortgage Defaults? They’re Coming Back with Student Loans," Susan Dynarski, New York Times, June 12, 2014.
Opinion: "Ignore the Debt Hype. College is a Great Investment," Susan Dynarski (with Sarah Turner), CNN Money, June 11, 2012.
Opinion: "Focus Tax Incentives on the Students Who Need Them," Susan Dynarski, Chronical of Higher Education, August 17, 2007.


"Loans for Educational Opportunity: Making Borrowing Work for Today’s Students," (with Daniel Kreisman), The Hamilton Project, September 30, 2013.
Proposes a better model of loan repayment: a single, simple, income-based repayment system called Loans for Educational Opportunity (LEO) would replace the current, bewildering array of repayment options.
"Financial Aid Policy: Lessons from Research" (with Judith Scott-Clayton). Future of Children (May 2013).

Reviews what is known and not known about the efficacy of various student aid programs; shows that, which lowering costs can improve college access, the complexity of program requirements and applications can reduce access to the funding that would improve college completion rates.

"Simplifying Tax Incentives and Aid for College: Progress and Prospects" (with Judith Scott-Clayton and Mark Wiederspan). Tax Policy and the Economy (2013).
Argues that most of the data items in the federal aid application do not affect the distribution of aid, and that the much shorter set of variables available in IRS data could be used to closely replicate the existing distribution of aid. Provides a five-year retrospective of what has changed in the aid process since this argument has been presented to Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, and discusses shortfalls and possible future reforms.
"Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion" (with Joshua Hyman and Diane Schanzenbach). Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32, no. 4 (2013): 692-717.
Uses the random assignment in the Project STAR experiment to estimate the effect of smaller classes in primary school on college entry, college choice, and degree completion; finds that assignment to a small class increases the probability of attending college by 2.7 percentage points.
"Raising College Enrollment" Milken Institute Review 10, no. 3 (2008): 37-45.

Recommends changes to the federal student aid system that would increase college enrollment and remove barriers to enrollment for otherwise qualified students, such as revising daunting FAFSA requirements.

"Building the Stock of College-Educated Labor" Journal of Human Resources 43, no. 3 (2008): 576-610.
Establishes a causal link between college costs and the share of workers with a college education, finding that tuition subsidy programs have increased the share of the population that completes a college degree.
"College Grants on a Postcard: A Proposal for Simple and Predictable Federal Student Aid," (with Judith Scott-Clayton), The Hamilton Project, January 31, 2007.
Calls for a drastic simplification of the current system of educational grants and tax incentives that would combine Pell Grants and the Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits for undergraduates into a single, streamlined grant administered through the Department of Education, using information already collected by the Internal Revenue Service.
"The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons from Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics" (with Judith Scott-Clayton). National Tax Journal 59, no. 2 (2006).

Describes the complexity of the aid system, and applies lessons from optimal tax theory and behavioral economics to show that complexity is a serious obstacle to both efficiency and equity in the distribution of student aid; uses detailed data from federal student aid applications to show that a radically simplified aid process can reproduce the current distribution of aid using a fraction of the information now collected.