Compared to state and institutional aid, federal aid has been the more popular financial service for students as college costs continue to rise.

Seventy-one percent of undergraduate students have received some sort of financial aid in the 2011-12 school year, and 82 percent of those students received federal grants or loans (40 percent received federal loans and 42 percent received federal grants), according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, only 35 percent received a grant from the state or the institution they attend.

"I think these last four years were very tough for states, and certainly we weren't surprised," said the commissioner of the NCES.

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