Behind The Bumper Sticker: One Grant, One Loan

Behind The Bumper Sticker: One Grant, One Loan

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  • Ladan Ahmadi
  • Senior Media Relations Manager
  • 202-384-1718

  • On Wednesday, October 11th, Third Way’s Education team hosted its inaugural event for a for new series designed to give experts a platform to debate what is “Behind the Bumper Sticker” on some of higher education’s most talked-about topics. Many policy ideas in higher education might sound good on the surface—but if not carefully crafted—could have unintended consequences for the students they are designed to serve. This series aims to explore the kinds of policy conversations that might sound like they would fit beautifully on a bumper sticker, but in fact, might actually be more complicated if you dig one layer down.

    Take, for example, the topic of our first event: “One Grant, One Loan.”

    There’s wide agreement that our federal student aid system is complicated. That’s why some policymakers have suggested condensing all financial aid programs into a “One Grant, One Loan” system. However, our first event brought together experts to explore whether or not this type of approach would actually improve or setback students’ ability to access the aid they need get to and through college.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adam Harris moderated the conversation with Sandy Baum a Senior Fellow in the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute, Jason Delisle a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, and Justin Draeger the President and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

    Adam started the conversation be asking each panelist to give a brief introduction to their stance and experience with the “One Grant, One Loan” system which was designed to streamline the programs and simplify financial aid. Each panelist shared examples of how our system got to be as complicated as it is today, which in large part was because as Jason put it “Congress is biased to add [programs] and never subtract.” However, Justin from NASFAA underscored that moving to a one-size-fits-all system may not solve every problem—summing up a general feeling from the event that, “in short, it’s complicated.”

    Asking the question the whole room was wondering, Adam inquired from the panelists, “What are some of the things that you would have to give away in order to achieve simplification?” Panelists agreed that any simplification would come at the hands of some students losing out—like eliminating campus aid programs like FSEOG. And as Sandy mentioned “even if you put all of that money into Pell [Grants], some students would lose because that money would be distributed differently.” However, panelists also acknowledged that some changes could be helpful in actually better targeting towards the students who need it most.

    Overall, this event made clear that the financial aid system is complicated, but simplifying it is complicated too. Because as Justin noted, "loans are now part of the access conversation, which changes the way we look at them.” But as Jason eloquently noted that something has to be done because, “it's possible for students to be burdened with more than one loan in a single semester. This is madness."

    If you have suggestions for a future “Behind the Bumper Sticker” topic you think we should demystify, please email Molly Simon at