2018 Federal Budget Increases Funds to Higher Education

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed a $3.1 trillion federal spending bill that covers the remaining 2018 fiscal year. It includes several provisions that will provide financial reprieve to student borrowers and institutions of higher education.

One such measure includes a one-time $350 million expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) that allows public servants — e.g., teachers, police officers, and other employees of certain nonprofit or government agencies — to have their education debt forgiven after 10 years. The $350 million will be spent on a first-come, first-serve basis for new applicants — as of February 28, slightly less than 13,000 applications had been received, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

PSLF, however, only covers federal student loans — meaning millions of public servant borrowers who are paying off private loans may not qualify. These borrowers have the option of consolidating their debt into direct federal loans, but their 10-year repayment schedule would just be starting. Another potential barrier to financial assistance is that borrowers’ recent monthly repayments must be equal to or greater than the amount required for the government’s repayment programs in order for qualification. Monthly payment amounts are based on individual borrowers’ income. To help clarify the program’s criteria and steer borrowers in the right direction, the bill has allocated an additional $2.3 million for outreach efforts.

The new budget increases overall funding for most student aid programs, including 15 percent increases for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work-Study programs — both of which help low-income students pay for college. Conversely, Pell Grant funding increased by just 3 percent.

The budget also includes $1 million more in spending for Asian and Native American/Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions and Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions, amounting to a 21.2 percent growth from last year. Federal support for college and university childcare services increased by a drastic 231 percent, from $15 million in 2017 to $50 million for fiscal year 2018.

In keeping with current trends that prioritize workforce training over liberal arts education, the National Endowment for the Humanities will only be receiving 2.1 percent more funding than last year, while Health Workforce Training will receive $1,061 million — 26.5 percent more than was budgeted in 2017.