College Affordability Under Attack In President Trump’s Proposed Budget

The administration’s proposal to keep Pell Grant levels flat is very troubling.
03/16/2017 03:51 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2017
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Today, the Trump administration released their proposed budget blueprint for 2018 immediately raising serious concerns for current and prospective college students.

First, it proposes eliminating the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program that is reserved for students with the greatest financial need. Second, it proposes eliminating the nearly $4 billion in the Pell Grant discretionary fund that could have been used to restore year-round Pell Grants for students who must take courses over the summer. Finally, the proposed budget reduces federal work study programs and proposes $173 million in cuts to TRIO and GEAR Up, which together would significantly reduce affordability and take away vital programs that work to improve access to college for low-income, first-generation students.

We all know that a college education continues to be the key to economic and social mobility in our state and in our nation, this is especially true for low income students. A degree has the power to lift entire families out of poverty.

I understand the transformative value of a college degree firsthand, as the daughter of a seamstress who was the first in my family to graduate from college. My mother worked hard so that I could have a better future, and college gave me the opportunity to channel the work ethic and dedication I learned from her into an education that would advance my career, change my life and allow me to help others. Now, I’m determined to use my voice to preserve that same opportunity for others by fighting to keep college affordable.

One way to bolster equal access to higher education is to expand the availability of Pell Grants, which provide need-based financial support to more than 8 million low-income students that otherwise might not be able to afford college. The administration’s proposal to keep Pell Grant levels flat is troubling given that Pell covers less than 30% of the cost to attend a public four-year college, the lowest share in more than 40 years. Increasing investments in Pell Grants will ensure college access and completion for college students who need it most.

By not redirecting the $4 billion in Pell Grant discretionary funding to students taking summer courses, Congress will be responsible for increasing the time it takes students to obtain a degree, increasing the amount of student debt they accumulate and causing them to enter the workforce later.

Pell covers less than 30% of the cost to attend a public four-year college, the lowest share in more than 40 years.

What we do not know from the budget proposal is whether the administration will build upon the past administration’s executive actions to improve the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Congress can institute targeted, common sense reforms that will strengthen and simplify the Application for Federal Financial Aid. By continuing the use of Prior-Prior data, expanding the IRS data retrieval tool, and reducing the number and complexity of questions, Congress will eliminate barriers for students in need of financial support - a group with disproportionately lower rates of college attendance and graduation.

Providing an equal opportunity for low-income students to attend and finish college is not only fair, it is sound policy and a good investment in our country’s future economy. State after state will experience workforce shortfalls in the coming years because we are not graduating enough students with the credentials needed to compete in the global economy. For example, in California, if current trends persist, we will be short 2.3 million college degrees and vocational certificates by 2025 to meet workforce demand. We must invest in a prepared and educated workforce by eliminating cost as a barrier to college for low-income students through an improved federal financial aid system. Helping all college-bound students to advance in their higher education goals, will help them to advance in life and, ultimately, help our nation succeed.

It is up to us, as a country, to come together and rise to this challenge. Business, community and elected leaders are stronger working side-by-side to increase educational opportunities for all students. At The Campaign for College Opportunity, we recently joined forces with a diverse coalition of partners, including the California Business Roundtable, Young Invincibles, the Southern California College Access Network, and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, to bring a group of college students to the halls of Congress last December to share personal stories about their challenges with the federal financial aid process. These young men and women spoke passionately about the invaluable role education has played in their lives, and how federal financial aid helps keep college affordable for them.

I hope the experiences of these college students can help shape our national budget and policy decisions to make the college dream a reality for more of our students. We simply cannot make our country great if we do not invest in college access programs or financial aid. Our future depends on more college graduates and that’s not a partisan issue.

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