Politicians, advocates, and other higher education stakeholders expressed mixed attitudes toward President Donald Trump's proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. While some called it an "all out assault" on students and said the cuts were "cruel and callous," others claimed the budget shows the "urgent need" for "bold solutions" and said it would "refocus" funding priorities on students.
The budget proposal – which included billions of dollars in cuts to, and the elimination of some federal student aid programs – was widely criticized by Democrats and many higher education advocacy organizations.
"The Trump administration's budget imposes devastating cuts on the federal financial aid programs that many college students rely on to pay for college," said Justin Draeger, president of NASFAA. "By eliminating or significantly cutting these programs, the White House puts in jeopardy the education of the next wave of young workers, and the future economic security of the U.S."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said on Twitter that Trump's budget proposal is an "all-out assault on America's kids, teachers, college students, [and] student loan borrowers."
Some advocacy organizations particularly took issue with the Trump administration's proposal to eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. The first cohort of borrowers eligible to receive loan forgiveness under the program would have their debt forgiven in October 2017.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that the higher education cuts contained in the budget proposal are "cruel and callous to students" and that ending PSLF "is unconscionable."
"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," Weingarten said. "This program is an equalizer in an era of skyrocketing college costs and a tool to improve public services; it corrects for budget cuts, lagging salaries and underinvestment in the public service workforce; increases teacher diversity; and helps ensure well-qualified nurses stay in rural hospitals."
Department of Education (ED) officials clarified in a call with reporters that any changes to the PSLF program would not begin until July 1, 2018, and that grandfathering provisions would ensure that any borrower who originated a new loan before July 1, 2018, would be eligible for PSLF.
The budget proposal would also eliminate subsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loans (all future loans would be unsubsidized), the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program, the Perkins Loan Program (by letting it expire), and all current income-driven repayment plans, which would be replaced with one new plan. Funding for the Federal Work-Study Program would be cut in half.
"If enacted, these reductions would have a devastating impact on the United States' long-term economic growth and seriously undermine economic opportunity for many low- and middle-income Americans," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. "There should be no mistake: Deep cuts to student aid will have a modest impact on upper-income families, but it will crush the personal and economic aspirations of low-income and working-class Americans for whom enrolling in college is an opportunity for better jobs and a brighter economic future."
Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) said the higher education budget "is a recipe for higher student debt, greater inequality, and a weaker economy," and called on Congress to "reject this reckless budget and instead work on a bipartisan basis to make college more affordable, not less."
But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that the budget would make "a historic investment in America's students."
"The budget also reflects a series of tough choices we have had to make when assessing the best use of taxpayer money," DeVos said. "It ensures funding for programs with proven results for students while taking a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven't yielded the desired outcomes. By refocusing the Department's funding priorities on supporting students, we can usher in a new era of creativity and ingenuity and lay a new foundation for American greatness."
The summary of the budget from ED also said that the "cancellation" of $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant Program surplus "will have no effect on students and will leave the Pell program on sound footing."
Lindsey Burke, director of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation's Center for Higher Education Policy said the budget "would make some long-overdue cuts" at ED, reducing the agency's budget by 13.6 percent.
"That type of reduction signals a serious commitment to reducing federal intervention in education – a necessary condition to make space for a restoration of state and local control," she said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, did not go so far as to endorse the full budget, but said students "cannot succeed in an economy that is crippled by too much government and too much debt."
"For too many years, the federal government has not lived within its means because policymakers have not set real priorities," she said in a statement. "The president's budget proposal reflects the consequences of this failed approach, as well as the urgent need for tough choices and bold solutions to pursue a more responsible course."
Foxx added that "no one will agree with every proposal outlined in this budget," and that it will now be up to Congress to take the proposals under consideration as lawmakers craft their own budget plan.
"NASFAA remains committed to advocating on behalf of students who count on the federal student aid programs to pay for college, particularly students from the lowest income brackets," Draeger said. "We encourage Congress to create a budget that will aid these students in their quest for the American Dream, and include adequate levels of support for all students pursuing a higher education."
For a detailed look at President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2018 budget, read NASFAA's analysis, "President Trump Proposes Devastating Cuts to Student Aid in 2018 Budget."
Publication Date: 5/23/2017