The Trump budget proposes a 14 percent cut for Education spending. Charter schools and new private school choice programs based on a voucher system are the big winners. Higher education is the big loser.
Trump proposes to eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), which goes to 1.6 million college students in the greatest need for financial aid. It is also expected that the Federal Work-Study program will be significantly reduced. Funding for critical college access programs, TRIO and GEAR UP, will be cut by $193 million. In sum, the Center for American Progress concludes that these cuts will amount to a more than $5 billion decrease in support for low-income students and students of color.
Trump proposes to pull $3.9 billion out of the Pell Grant program’s current reserve of $10.6 billion, weakening it for the future. Dipping into savings only means that pressures to make cuts will become more pronounced soon. With the House Republican on the Education and Workforce Committee wanting to ‘streamline funding’ and make the program ‘more transparent for taxpayers’ by eliminating the mandatory Pell funding, there are reasons to be deeply worried about Pell’s future. Additionally, it seems that those who wanted to use Pell’s reserves to revive the bipartisan idea of a year-long Pell are in for a disappointment, not to mention those who were hoping to use it to restore the purchasing power of the Pell.
As for college loans, Trump will allow guarantee agencies to charge extra fees (up to 16 percent) to students seeking to enter a loan rehabilitation program. Trump did so by reversing a 2015 guidance issued by the Obama administration aimed at stopping the practice that was clearly adding unnecessary financial burden on the most vulnerable borrowers. This change potentially affects 7 million debtors who hold $162 billion in Federal Family Education Loans. Ironically, this decision came right after a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showing that defaults increased 14 percent since last year.
Colleges will also suffer under Trump as he is proposing deep cuts in research dollars. Ultimately, these changes put students in a vice. Their financial aid will go down as their tuition bill keeps going up. Indeed, lack of research funding will force colleges to raise tuition even faster. The finances of our colleges and students are already fragile even before Trump’s changes. Unwittingly he may be pushing one of our greatest assets, our higher education system, over the cliff. Shouldn’t we be thinking about how to pick up the pieces?