What Trump’s Proposed 2018 Budget Would Mean for Higher Ed

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The Trump administration on Tuesday released its budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. All told, the budget would cut federal education programs by more than $10 billion. The Department of Education’s total operating budget would be slashed by $9 billion, and spending on secondary-education programs would be redirected to school-choice initiatives — the chief policy goal of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

President Trump’s budget would eliminate the public-service loan-forgiveness program, subsidized Stafford Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants; begin to phase out the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities; and allow the Perkins Loan program to expire. It would also cut spending in half on Federal Work-Study programs, slash the budget of the National Institutes of Health by a fifth, eliminate programs that foster foreign-language study, and reduce spending that supports international-education programs and exchanges, such as the Fulbright Scholar program, by 55 percent.

The administration’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, is not the final version, and congressional leaders have already started railing against many of the president’s more drastic cuts, noting that Congress has the final say on appropriations bills.

“Congress will write the budget and set the spending priorities. Where we find good ideas in the president’s budget, we will use them,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate education committee, in a written statement. “We should not pretend to balance the budget by cutting national laboratories, national parks, and the National Institutes of Health,” he continued.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, echoed that sentiment. “Thankfully, Congress has the ultimate responsibility for setting funding levels, and with the FY 2017 spending bills, it showed a willingness to reject similarly damaging proposals,” she said in a written statement. “Colleges and universities and their students will work with Congress to continue the historic, bipartisan support for federal student aid and research funding.”

Cuts in Student Aid and Loan Forgiveness

The elimination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and cuts in Work-Study would negatively affect low-income and first-generation college students, said Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network. ”The programs proposed for dramatic reductions or eliminations are all important building blocks that help our low-income, first-generation, and students of color access and complete a higher education. For these students, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial-aid package,” she said.

The elimination of the public-service loan-forgiveness program, she added, would make it more difficult for nonprofit organizations to recruit qualified staff members.

Critics of the public-service loan-forgiveness program have argued that it is too generous, and that it does not cap the amount of debt that can be forgiven. According to The Washington Post, at least 552,931 people are enrolled in the program, and the prospect that the Trump administration would seek to shut it down had sparked widespread fears among those participants, many of whom have made long-term career plans on the assumption that their choices would enable their student loans to be forgiven. The budget plan says, however, that all student-loan proposals, including public-service loan forgiveness and the elimination of subsidized loans, would apply only to loans originating on or after July 1, 2018, and current participants in the programs would be allowed to complete them based on current policies.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, admonished the administration for proposing to cut higher-education spending — and specifically the public-service loan-forgiveness program, which many public-school teachers are eligible for. “Ending the public-service loan-forgiveness program, in which half a million Americans are already enrolled, is unconscionable,” she said. “To pull the rug out from the tens of millions of PSLF-eligible Americans who are not enrolled, despite claiming student debt is an albatross around students’ necks, is the height of hypocrisy.”

Not everyone was displeased with the proposal to eliminate the program, though. Mary Clare Reim, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the budget had promising reforms and was a step toward fiscal responsibility in the student-loan area. Eliminating the public-service loan-forgiveness program in particular, she said, would be a victory for taxpayers.

Cuts in Spending on Scientific and Medical Research

As with its preliminary outline in March, the administration’s full budget proposal represents a broad assault on federally sponsored scientific exploration, and it drew renewed criticism from college and university leaders and a bipartisan array of lawmakers.

The more-detailed plan issued on Tuesday would cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 22 percent, essentially repeating the position of its March outline, even though top administration officials hosted a White House meeting on May 9 at which they endorsed the idea that biomedical research has widespread economic and health benefits.

Tuesday’s plan also offered the administration’s first budget recommendation for the National Science Foundation, a one-year cut of 11 percent. The administration also proposed a 17-percent cut for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a 70-percent reduction in research on energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Energy Department, a 44-percent cut in science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the elimination of the energy-innovation agency ARPA-E.

Even under Republican control, Congress has shown a willingness to push back on such proposals. In passing their final budget for the 2017 fiscal year earlier this month, lawmakers provided spending increases for several key science agencies, including a one-year boost of $2 billion for the NIH.

While acknowledging the Trump plan is not likely to be accepted by Congress, research advocates slammed it as a misguided view of national priorities. The administration’s proposed cuts “would devastate America’s science and technology enterprise, and negatively affect our nation’s economy and public well-being,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Trump budget “would effectively cripple our nation’s scientific efforts, undermining our economic growth, public health, and national security,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities.

Year-Round Pells and Fewer Repayment Options

The administration’s proposal also includes support for year-round Pell Grants, which was revived in the congressional budget deal that covered spending for the rest of the current fiscal year. The budget would not, however, index Pell Grants to inflation, which would have raised its diminishing buying power, as many advocates had hoped. “While the return of year-round Pell will be a great benefit to students — most likely starting in summer 2018 — if lawmakers do not also take action to extend automatic adjustments and increase the maximum Pell Grant award annually, its purchasing power will continue to decline,” said Ms. Warick.

President Trump followed through on one of his campaign promises by proposing a single income-driven repayment plan, replacing the five current plans. Borrowers’ monthly payments would be capped at 12.5 percent, with any remaining balance being forgiven after 15 years of repayment for undergraduate borrowers and 30 years for graduate borrowers.

There is widespread support for consolidating the current menu of income-driven repayment plans into one or two options. However, Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst in New America’s education-policy program, said the terms of the plan proposed in Mr. Trump’s budget would create a dichotomy between graduate and undergraduate students. “It really balances the cost of shorter-term repayment plans for undergraduates on the backs of graduates,” she said.

The president’s budget is a messaging document, she continued. While it may be used as justification for later changes, she said it is highly unlikely all of the proposed cuts will be reflected in the budget eventually passed by Congress.

“Members of Congress always do and have made clear that they intend to follow their own process for this,” she said. “The implications of the cuts for their constituents would be severe.”

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Sean Brennan is Communications Director for California GEAR UP. CA GEAR UP is based out of Sacramento and Oakland California. Please visit our website for more information. http://castategearup.org

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