By Cynthia A. Littlefield, Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU

The Last Obama Budget

President Barack Obama released his final budget for FY17 last week, totaling over $4 trillion. Education received an increase of $1.4 billion, along with the budget caps that were negotiated two years ago between former House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA). A number of policy suggestions are proposed for higher education, as well as an increase of $139.7 billion for grants, loans and the Federal Work Study program.

For Pell Grants, a request for $30.104 billion could help realize a Pell maximum award of $5,935 by using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to score the program. Pell Grant policy suggestions include bringing back year-round Pell Grants; an on-track Pell bonus of $300 per year for students who take 15 credit hours each semester; and a Second Chance Pell for incarcerated individuals who successfully transitioned out of prison. 

Once again, the Administration supported campus-based aid programs, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work Study (FWS), by requesting level funding from FY16, and calling for a new proposal to make these programs available to institutions who enroll and graduate more Pell Grant students. The Administration continues to support the Perkins loan program by calling for an investment of $8.5 billion of loans annually as an unsubsidized Stafford Loan program. Only institutions that enroll and graduate more Pell Grant students would receive Perkins loans, according to the Administration’s proposal.

While these policy suggestions have to be legislated, they do suggest this Administration’s priorities for higher education. Increases are proposed for Title III institutional grant aid, while TRIO, GearUP and the graduate GAAN program are proposed to receive level funding from FY16. Of interest is a proposed College Opportunity and Graduation bonus to colleges and universities that enroll a significant number of low and middle-income students; this would cost $547 million.

Cuts are proposed for Title VI international programs, and the Teach Grant proposal to consolidate the program with the Teacher and Principal Pathways program, would have a budget of $125 million.

At this point, it is unknown whether there will be a budget at all in Congress. Senate Budget Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) expressed doubt on moving forward and House Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) has not backed down on completing a budget. What we do know is that President Obama has supported higher education student aid programs over the seven years he has presented a budget to Congress. This has always sent a message to folks on the Hill of the importance of these vital programs.

Is There a Chance For Free-Tuition Proposals to be Adopted?

In political election years, it is not uncommon to hear suggestions for grandiose plans on student aid and tuition. In the FY17 budget, President Obama has suggested free tuition for students who attend a community college for two years, then later attend a minority serving institution such as an HBCU or HSI (historically black colleges and universities or Hispanic-serving institutions). The proposed cost of roughly $61 billion would be spread out over ten years. 

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has suggested that free college tuition for all public institutions, both two-year and four year, be paid for by increasing taxes for the wealthiest individuals. The other Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has a more pragmatic proposal of making sure that students have a debt-free tuition. Republican front-runners Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) have yet to propose a higher education policy.

The bottom line, however, is in this current political composition of a Republican-controlled Congress, is it possible that a free-tuition proposal could generate some support? It seems improbable, given the high cost to implement such a program. Yet, should one of the Chambers turn over to the Democrats, there might be a better chance, assuming the Presidency was won by a Democrat, not a Republican.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

AJCU remembers the dynamic career and life of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died this past weekend. Justice Scalia was Jesuit educated as a graduate of both Xavier High School and Georgetown University. He had a stellar career in the Supreme Court for over thirty years and became known as a definitive conservative Justice as well as the longest serving member on this current court. We extend our condolences to his family and will remember him as one of our esteemed Justices who served his country well.