Trump budget targets grant benefiting 35,000 Arizona college students

Among the many cuts in the Trump administration’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget is a college grant program that benefits thousands of Arizona students. Administration officials say the program is not efficient, but experts worry it could be “a real setback” for some students. (Photo by Commons)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s budget blueprint calls for eliminating a need-based grant that benefits more than 35,000 Arizona college students, a cut that one expert said could be “a real setback for students.”

The cut was part of an overall 13 percent decrease for the Education Department in the fiscal 2018 budget outlined Thursday. Education is one of many agencies facing deep reductions as the administration looks to protect entitlement programs and shift funds to defense and border security.

Many of the Education Department cuts will come to higher education programs, as the department looks to boost funding for school choice. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a prepared statement that the budget is a step in the right direction for school choice that “keeps with President Trump’s promise to focus the U.S. Department of Education on its mission to serve students.”

But Liz Clark, the director of federal affairs at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, called the education budget cuts “very concerning.”

A detailed budget has not yet been released, but analysts said they expect to see deep cuts to research funding in addition to cuts to the federal work-study program and to the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant cited in Thursday’s budget brief.

While the budget pledged to protect the Pell Grant program, it called for elimination of the supplemental grant program, which it called “a less well-targeted way to deliver need-based aid than the Pell Grant.”

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities said that Arizona received $21.4 million in the supplemental grants which it distributed to 35,183 students for the current school year.

The budget also said that the federal work-study program would be “significantly” reduced.

“Both (work-study and the supplemental grant) are used widely by students with financial need,” Clark said. “It’s a real setback for students.”

Higher education officials in Arizona said they hope Congress can salvage some of the education funding.

“The president’s budget blueprint is a proposal,” said a statement from Arizona State University. Whatever happens in Washington, the statement went on to say, the university “remains committed to providing an affordable, first-rate education to qualified individuals who choose to pursue a post-secondary education.”

Arizona Board of Regents spokeswoman Julie Newberg said the board is looking to the state’s congressional delegation to make higher education a priority in future budget discussions.

“Affordable and accessible public higher education must be a steadfast priority if our country is to remain competitive well into the future,” Newberg said in a statement.

Clark and others acknowledged that defense spending is important, but that increases for the Pentagon should not shortchange other programs – like education.

The president’s plan would boost defense spending by $52 billion, a 10 percent increase to a total of $639 billion in fiscal 2018.

“There is no question that the United States must ensure its military has the resources it needs to protect our nation,” said a statement from Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities President Peter McPherson. “But it’s a false choice to argue that can only be achieved through deep cuts to non-defense discretionary programs, including education and research.”

McPherson’s statement also outlines concern for other programs Trump has targeted for cuts, such as a proposed 19 percent reduction to funding for the National Institutes of Health.

“Research and higher education serve as the underpinnings of our economy and society,” McPherson said in a statement. “There is simply no possible way to achieve the robust levels of economic growth the president seeks without investing in these two areas.”

Clark echoed those concerns.

“NACUBO is concerned with what looks like a big cut to NIH,” she said. “They do a lot in house, but they support a lot of university-based research in health sciences.”