Dept. of Education Apparently Has Authority to Waive At Least Some Pell Grant Requirements Without Congressional Approval

Politico published an interesting story last week by Libby Nelson on the potential executive actions the administration could take to address some of the President’s higher education proposals. This section, in particular, caught my eye:

The Education Department could also give colleges the flexibility to test new programs by waiving financial aid rules. The department already experiments with new approaches to financial aid. One current experiment allows students who already have a bachelor’s degree to get another Pell Grant — not typically allowed — so they can enroll in a vocational program.

Colleges volunteer to participate in the experiments, and the Education Department has the authority to waive legal requirements. A similar approach could be used, at least on a small scale, to try out additional innovative programs.

Obama singled out a program at Southern New Hampshire University that allows students to earn degrees at their own pace by completing readings and taking tests to show how much they’ve learned. Other experiments could let students use financial aid to pay for tests that let them earn credit for skills picked up outside the classroom. Or they could expand federal financial aid to include high school students earning college credit through dual enrollment programs. (my emphasis)

This section—particularly the last sentence—raises the question as to whether the administration could/would use this authority to provide something resembling “ability to benefit” (ATB) Pell Grant eligibility for certain adults or out-of-school youth without a high-school diploma—perhaps on an “experimental,” college-by-college basis. (ATB was eliminated in a budget deal back in 2012.) There have been proposals in recent months to try to legislatively restore ATB for students enrolled in certain dual enrollment programs—could something similar be done via administrative action?

(Putting aside for now the equity issue raised by restoring ATB eligibility only for students with access to certain approved programs.)