President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget would maintain funding for Pell grants, but it would rescind $3.9 billion from the program’s surplus, a move community college advocates say could lead to future shortfalls.
“A cut to the surplus would hasten the program’s return to funding shortfalls and severely impair making program improvements, including the year-round Pell Grant,” the American Association of Community Colleges said in response to Trump’s much-anticipated “skinny budget” — a preview of the full budget that provides broad budget goals for federal departments and agencies but few program details.
The Pell Grant program, considered a cornerstone for federal student aid, provides up to $5,815 annually to low-income college students. Community college students receive about 36 percent of Pell grants, according to AACC.
The president’s budget is considered a starting point for discussions about federal funding, as both chambers of Congress will work on their own spending plans before trying to hash out a compromise bill.
Overall, the budget blueprint would cut funding to the U.S. Education Department (ED) by $9 billion (13 percent) while the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) would face a $2.5 billion hit (21 percent). In ED, the plan would eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grant (SEOG) program and cut the Federal Work Study (FWS), TRIO and GEAR-UP programs. Community college students receive about 18 percent of FWS aid and 23 percent of SEOG aid.
Funding for TRIO, which would be cut by 10 percent to $808 million, has shown “limited evidence on the overall effectiveness in improving student outcomes,” the plan said.
More than 20 other smaller ED programs, including international education, would be eliminated.
The budget would maintain $492 million for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), a growing number of which are community colleges.
On the DOL side, the president’s plan contains fewer details, calling for a decrease in funding for job training and employment service formula grants, shifting more of the financial responsibility to states, localities and employers. The plan would help states expand apprenticeships — which it called “an evidence-based approach to preparing workers for jobs” — but doesn’t include details.
On Wednesday, some Senate education appropriators were already bracing for the news regarding proposed cuts as they held a hearing where many of them expressed support for reinstating year-round Pell. During a hearing on STEM education and careers, members of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriation Subcommittee also heard from advocates about the successes of federal funding job training programs, particularly how they help displaced workers learn new skills at community colleges in order to secure jobs in growing fields.
Upon release of the budget summary on Thursday, several congressional Democrats expressed their dismay at the plan. Rep. Alma Adams, D-North Carolina, who serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee, issued a statement saying the budget “guts” support programs that help students in favor of political projects.
“Instead of wasting billions on a useless border wall, Congress should support a budget that includes restoration of year-round Pell grants and the substantial increase of their purchasing power,” she said.