||Abstract In countries charging tuition fees, and those that are considering adopting tuition fee policies, recent economic conditions are making education less affordable and accessible for students (Johnstone & Marcucci, 2010; Schwarzenberger & Opheim, 2009). To combat these challenges, nations, state/regional governments, and universities are experimenting with financial aid programs by providing non-repayable grants and scholarships to reduce price barriers (Usher & Medow, 2010). This paper synthesizes the underlying political and ethical motivations driving these financial aid policies. Aid providers interested in pursuing market prestige may prioritize ?merit-based? aid policies that are influenced by neoliberal norms; alternatively, those interested in equalizing opportunities for price-sensitive students may prioritize policies guided by egalitarian values related to social justice. The political economy of aiding students has profound effects on educational opportunity, so this paper offers policymakers, researchers, and practitioners a model from which to frame these crosscutting and timely ethical issues.