President Trump and the State of Higher Education
Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on April 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm
When President Trump was on the campaign trail last year, he was not overly forthcoming about his plans for higher education policy. There were some hints that he would decrease financial aid and perhaps privatize student loans to a greater degree but little in the way of concrete statements.
Since the inauguration, Betsy DeVos has been installed as the new secretary of education, but she has mostly been identified with K-12 policy to this point. Finally, though, there seems to be more information about the administration’s direction on higher ed.
Trump releases first budget proposal
The administration recently released its national spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year. The proposed budget clarifies to some degree the state of affairs of higher education under a Trump administration.
Proposed budget cuts for the Department of Education were not as substantial as some analysts had feared. They represent a decrease of about 13.5 percent, or $9.2 billion, to the 2018 budget.
While some of the cuts are to K-12 programs, there are two that are exclusively targeting higher education; the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant and the Federal Work Study program. These represent account for $1.7 billion in spending annually.
These are not the greatest expenditures in the federal budget for higher education. That distinction is held by the Pell Grant, which accounts for about $28 billion annually.
The reduction in discretionary funds will decrease funding for the Pell Grant by about $3.9 billion. Andre Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, shared his concern that, “These cuts will greatly impact the lower-income families who benefit from these financial aid programs.”
He also explained it was likely that college students would need to rely more heavily on student loans to cover the cost of their education. That’s a trend that has been steadily increasing over the past several decades.
Additional budget cuts proposed for this year
In addition to the proposed budget cuts for the 2018 fiscal year, the administration recently released instructions to Congress to perform $18 billion in budget cuts for the current fiscal year.
This would potentially mean an additional cut of nearly $3 billion for the Department of Education. This is nearly double the reduction proposed for any other single department.
These cuts would reduce funding to the Pell Grant program by $1.3 billion. If the proposed cuts to the 2017 and 2018 budgets are implemented, it would represent a reduction of approximately half of the program’s total surplus.
The proposal also recommends eliminating programs such as AmeriCorps altogether. The documentation indicates the belief of the administration that these types of volunteer facilitating programs are not appropriate for federal expenditure and should be promoted by nonprofit and private stakeholders.
While it has been difficult to obtain official documentations, some news outlets have been reporting a reluctance among members of Congress to pass such substantial cuts.
Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business management at Brooklyn College, pointeds out, “Donald Trump ran on a platform opposed to political correctness. Universities are bastions of political correctness. We can expect reductions in funding for all dimensions of Title IX.”
It is apparent that education will continue to be targeted by the Trump administration. What is unclear is how supportive Congress will be of the reprioritization away from federal support of educational endeavors going forward.
Ongoing trends in higher education
GoodCall® reported in March that the data retrieval tool used by students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid had been taken offline due to some sort of security breach.
When it first happened, officials pegged it as a maintenance issue. This was followed by a press release stating the tool would be unavailable for several weeks but would be back soon.
The latest press release from the Department of Education, released at the end of March, says the tool, which is used to transfer information from the IRS to a student’s application, will be unavailable until the next FAFSA season.
The implementation of this tool was integral to the plan to make the process for applying for financial aid more accessible to a greater number of those students in need. The removal of the tool, along with the additional requirements, has made it far more difficult for these students to fill out their paperwork in a timely manner.
DeVos spoke recently at the Brookings Institute, where she indicated the nation’s educational system is in such a poor state that it is impossible for it to do anything other than improve. These comments were directly related to public school education and the right of parents to choose private schools or charter schools for their children.
She also has appointed Robert S. Eitel as her special assistant. Eitel has been involved with the for-profit college industry for the past several years. This has caused some concern about the state of the for-profit colleges sector, which faced tougher regulation under President Obama for what that administration termed as unethical practices. It is possible the appointment heralds a relaxation of oversight put in place during that administration.
Until the budget proposals are approved by Congress or new policies are put forth by the Trump administration, it is difficult to determine just how much higher education will change.