Trump administration budget to decrease higher education budget

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 7:07pm

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Design by Michelle Phillips

 

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal suggests downsizing the Department of Education by 13 percent, or $9 billion, and eliminates multiple grants, including Pell Grants and other programs aimed at helping low-income students.

The proposed budget reduces or eliminates funding for more than 20 departmental programs, including removing $2.4 billion in grants for teacher training and $1.2 billion in funding for after-school programs. At a rally in Tennessee, Trump said this budget will be more efficient, cutting programs on the basis of redundancy.

“(The budget will lower) costs to the taxpayer by reducing or eliminating funding for programs that are not effective, that duplicate other efforts or that do not serve national needs,” Trump said at the rally.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos agreed, promising the most “vulnerable” students will be protected despite the large cuts being made.

"This budget maintains our department's focus on supporting states and school districts with the goal of providing an equal opportunity for a quality education to all students," DeVos said at a conference in Washington D.C. on Feb. 14. 

Still, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), the former chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, said in a statement that despite claims some education programs are duplicative, many students still rely on them.

“President Trump’s proposed budget would put education even further out of reach for families by cutting or eliminating vital programs students rely on to help fund their college education, including cutting federal work-study programs and ending Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, which more than 52,000 students in Michigan received last year.” 

Low-income students are expected to be most affected. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides need-based aid to 1.6 million undergraduates a year, is slated to be eliminated.

LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said he does not see this as a loss, however, considering the criticism the program has received for being inefficient.

“A large portion of this budget cut comes from the reduction of the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant; an outdated program that gives money directly to colleges as opposed to low-income students.”

Additionally, the Trump administration plans to reduce the work-study program “significantly,” though it doesn’t detail how much it would be reduced. Currently, the program spends about $1 billion to provide more than 600,000 college students with jobs pertinent to their studies, according to the National Association for Financial Aid Administrators.

Though the work-study program has received bipartisan support for providing a job rather than a handout, it has been criticized for providing too much for the affluent and not enough for low-income families. The structure of the work-study program allocates money toward colleges and universities that have been in the program for a longer time; historically, those colleges and universities are more expensive and have wealthier students.

Additionally, Zalamea said the work-study is not effective at creating opportunities for those who would not have otherwise had them.

“Another large portion of the cuts come from reducing the federal work-study program, which actually demonstrates a high participation rate from people who would have worked regardless of the program, or from wealthy students,” he said.

TRIO programs, which are geared toward low-income, first-generation and disabled students, and GEAR UP face nearly $200 million in funding cuts. The University has been criticized for its lack of socioeconomic diversity and Public Policy junior Rowan Conybeare, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the University’s diversity will be further hindered without these programs.

“Low-income, first-generation and disabled students are unfortunately few and far between at UM,” Conybeare said. “Cuts to TRIO programs will only augment this issue.”

These cuts allow for the $1.4 billion expansion in voucher and private school programs, a favorite cause of DeVos. The $1.4 billion acts as a down payment to the eventual allocation of $20 billion toward voucher programs. If enacted, the $20 billion would represent one-third of federal education spending.

Despite DeVos’s claims that school of choice will give students more academic opportunities, Conybeare argued draining money from the public-school system is counterintuitive to that goal.

“Many students use school of choice as a means to seek out better academic opportunities,” Conybeare said. “If the Department of Education focused instead on funding and fixing our public-school system, there would be less of a need for the School of Choice program in the first place.”

However, Zalamea said school of choice will keep socioeconomic status from correlating with poor education.

“It’s sad to think that in the land of the free, your ZIP code determines your quality of education,” Zalamea said. “Undoubtedly, low-income families will benefit more from school choice than they will under our current, incredibly flawed public education system.”

Still alive is the Pell Grant program, which is the primary form of aid for low-income students and the largest federal grant program, though its funds would be reduced by $3.9 billion. They will still have access to $22.5 billion in discretionary funds as the proposed cuts come from their $10.6 billion surplus.

Regardless, Conybeare highlighted the prevalence of work study at the University and said inequality will be furthered without it.

“At UM alone, 16 percent of students received the Pell Grant in 2014-2015,” Conybeare said. “In the long term, this will only serve to increase inequalities in higher education.”

Zalamea pushed back against claims that this reduction is extensive, especially considering the reduction came out of a surplus in funding.

“Pell Grants are by far the largest single expenditure in the education budget, with an annual $28 billion,” Zalamea said. “A $3.9-billion reduction from their surplus is just a drop in the bucket compared to what is already being spent now.”

Students with disabilities will retain the $13 billion allocated to them through IDEA programs, and minority institutions, like historically Black colleges, will have access to $492 million. DeVos used this funding to justify cuts made.

“This budget also continues support for our nation's most vulnerable populations, including students with disabilities,” DeVos said at a public appearance.

Regardless, Dingell voiced concern over the proposed budget, pointing out possible economic downfalls.

“It comes down to this: our young people are 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future,” Dingell wrote in a statement. “If we fail to invest in them, we fail to invest in the future of our families and our economic competitiveness." 

Similarly, Rep. Gary Peters (D–Mich.) wrote in a press release that despite Trump’s efforts to make the United States more efficient, the costs outweigh the benefits.

“Congress has a responsibility to use taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively, and members of both parties must work together to reduce wasteful spending and help shrink the deficit,” he wrote. “But this proposal does more harm than good.”