Trump’s Higher Education Budget Cuts Hurt Low-Income, Minority Students

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President Donald Trump outlined his administration’s budget priorities last week in a blueprint for fiscal year 2018 that includes a $9 billion cut in funding to the U.S. Department of Education, which many opponents say will disproportionately affect low-income and minority students.

Trump’s proposal, which will have to be approved by Congress, would shrink the Education Department’s budget by 13 percent while increasing spending for school-choice programs in elementary and secondary education by $1.4 billion. Although the administration has indicated plans to preserve the existing Pell Grant program, it has called for the cancellation of an additional $3.9 billion in carryover funding — part of a $10 billion surplus resulting from a change in eligibility requirements for students.

In addition, several programs — costing a total of $200 million — that primarily serve low-income and minority students would get the axe under Trump’s proposed budget. Such initiatives include the eight TRIO programs, which provide academic support for students who are low-income, first-generation, or have a disability, as well as Gear Up, a competitive grant program that prepares low-income students for postsecondary education — which would see its budget decrease by 32 percent.

Officials from the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships have argued that the program is a worthy investment. In 2014, 77 percent of Gear Up participants enrolled in higher education immediately after high school; in comparison, only 45.5 percent of low-income students nationwide attend college right out of high school.

Furthermore, funding for the Federal Work-Study program would be significantly reduced under Trump’s plan, with the money being diverted to “students who need it most,” according to the proposal. And the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which provides funding for low-income students, would be eliminated entirely.

Despite these cuts, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the budget proposal protects “the nation’s most vulnerable populations,” adding that the allocation of funds for school-choice programs represents an investment in underserved communities. The $1.4 billion allotted for such K-12 efforts includes a proposed $168 million increase for charter schools, $250 million for a new school-choice program focused on private schools, and a $1billion boost for Title I, the federal K-12 program that aids poor students.

Critics have called some of Trump’s expansive cuts shortsighted, claiming that certain programs have been very effective.

While the budget maintains federal support for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions in the amount of $492 million, despite requests from many HBCU leaders, Trump did not allocate any new funding to these institutions.

Trump’s budget proposal — which, upon review and approval, will take effect October 1 — also includes cuts to several organizations that sponsor and conduct academic research, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Many are fearful of the impact such measures will have on the United States’ ability to remain competitive in STEM fields.