3 Changes in Financial Aid That Democrats and Republicans Agree On

Many of the ideas being trumpeted as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act are going to fall by the wayside amid partisan disagreement. Republicans want to kill President Obama’s controversial college-ratings system. Democrats want to impose stringent rules for doling out student aid to for-profit colleges, a measure largely opposed by Republicans.

But there are substantial areas of overlap between the competing proposals—one that was released Tuesday night by Republicans in the House of Representatives, and one released Wednesday afternoon by Senate Democrats. Here’s a look at three changes in the financial-aid landscape that both parties support:

Make the Pell Grant Available Year-Round

Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced a desire to make the student-aid process more accommodating to students who don’t fit the traditional mold (first-time, full-time, fresh out of high school). One of the most popular proposals for accomplishing that goal is allowing students to receive more than the value of one Pell Grant per year if they attend college year-round.

In 2011, Congress eliminated the year-round Pell as a cost-saving measure. Since then, calls for its return have been continuous in higher-education policy circles. Both parties have also endorsed more funding for the Pell Grant program as a whole.

Establish One Option for Income-Based Repayment

President Obama has sought to enlarge the pool of borrowers eligible to repay their loans monthly by an amount determined by their income. But enrollment in income-based repayment is very low and is likely to stay that way.

Borrowers who participate in income-based repayment are less likely to default on their loans. With that in mind, Republicans and Democrats advocate creating only one form of income-based repayment. The Democrats’ proposal goes one step further: automatically enrolling severely delinquent borrowers in income-based repayment.

Make Federal Data More Useful

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System has been the subject of many a gripe for its clunkiness. Not only is it difficult to navigate, both parties say, it needs to offer more-useful information.

The proposed details are messier. Republicans propose presenting more data that would be of use to nontraditional students, like figures that assess completion. Amid the legalese of the Democrats’ draft proposal, the sum of changes in the data system was not immediately clear. But, among other things, it appears to propose the inclusion of data measuring factors like completion and average student debt in the College Scorecard.

To see the conversation surrounding the competing reauthorization proposals, follow the hashtag #HigherEdAct on Twitter.

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