House FY18 budget

Last month, the House Budget Committee released their fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, which sets Congressional funding priorities for the coming fiscal year starting October 1, 2017, and provides a fiscal blueprint for the next decade. This resolution lays out a plan even more extreme than the education cuts proposed by the Trump Administration’s FY18 budget. In addition to including well over $200 billion in cuts to education funding over the next ten years, the resolution also initiates the fast-track reconciliation process that would require at least $20 billion of these education cuts be made this coming year.  

Recent threats to college affordability and access are persistently coming from multiple directions: the FY17 spending agreement already raided $1.3b from Pell Grants, the President’s budget proposed deep cuts to federal education spending, and the House Appropriations Committee separately agreed to raid $3.3 billion from Pell Grants in FY18 at the same time this budget resolution was introduced. However, the House Budget plan is a uniquely devastating attack on federal support for higher education.

The budget resolution’s massive cuts to both the Pell Grant and student loans would magnify the already heavy burden of debt on students, families, and the economy. We’ve summarized the cuts to student loans, and their impact, on Twitter:

The proposed cuts to Pell Grants are likewise both numerous and extreme. This thread lays out each one, and what they mean for students and equity in higher education more generally:

It’s helpful to remember that the House Budget Committee’s framing of the link between federal financial aid and tuition costs — which we can only assume is an attempt to help justify all these deep cuts — is both deceptively narrow and unsupported by research.

The House Budget report furthermore claims that cuts are needed because the Pell Grant’s current funding is unsustainable, but evidence shows that is simply not true.

In reality, steady program costs and existing reserve funds signal an opportunity to make an increased investment in Pell Grants to better support the nation’s students and their career goals. As the FY18 budget process moves forward, we urge Congress to reject these needless cuts to federal financial aid that would take our country down a path of deeper inequity and a weaker economy, and instead heed the call of over 300 colleges and student advocates to strengthen Pell Grants.

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The House FY2018 budget resolution is expected to advance the President’s proposal to eliminate subsidized Stafford loans that go to students with financial need. With subsidized loans, interest does not accrue while students are in school, for six months after they leave school, during active-duty military service, and for up to three years of unemployment or other economic hardship. The billions of dollars in savings from ending subsidized loans for new students would not be used to make college more affordable. Instead, this proposed rollback would be exacerbated by other dramatic cuts to programs that help students afford college and repay their loans.

Eliminating subsidized loans would increase the cost of college by thousands of dollars for many of the six million undergraduates who receive those loans each year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that eliminating subsidized loans would add $23.4 billion in costs to students over 10 years.

The charts below illustrate how much more a student would have to pay if subsidized loans are eliminated and the student borrows the same amount in unsubsidized loans instead. The calculations assume the student starts school in 2018-19, borrows the maximum subsidized student loan amount ($23,000), and graduates in five years.

Using the most recent CBO interest rate projections (from June 2017), eliminating subsidized loans would cause this student to enter repayment with $3,650 in additional debt due to accrued interest charges. As a result, she would end up paying $4,700 (16%) more over 10 years and $6,600 (16%) more if she repaid over 25 years.

The added costs to students would be even higher if interest rates increase faster than current projections. If the undergraduate Stafford loan interest rate hits the statutory cap of 8.25%, eliminating subsidized loans would cause this student to enter repayment with $5,700 in additional debt due to accrued interest charges. As a result, she would end up paying $8,350 (25%) more over 10 years and $13,450 (25%) more if she repaid over 25 years.

At a time where there is growing public concern about rising student debt and broad consensus on the importance of higher education and postsecondary training to the US economy, we need to be doing more, not less, to keep college within reach for all Americans.  For more information on TICAS’ proposals to streamline and improve federal student loans, see our summary of recommendations and our recent report, Make it Simple, Keep it Fair: A Proposal to Streamline and Improve Income-Driven Repayment of Federal Student Loans.

Note: This borrower would only be eligible for a 25-year repayment plan if she borrowed unsubsidized Stafford loans in addition to subsidized Stafford loans and entered repayment with more than $30,000 in debt. The most recent data show that almost four in five (79%) undergraduates with subsidized loans also have unsubsidized loans.

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