EDITORIAL: Trump must revise his Higher Education Act proposal

Several of the provisions contained within Trump’s proposed reauthorization for the HEA are concerning

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President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 budget, which aims to decrease education spending by over 10 percent

Courtesy Gage Skidmore

First instituted in 1965, the Higher Education Act plays an essential role in, among other things, providing federal student aid for American colleges and universities. It is usually revisited every four years, but as it was not reauthorized since 2008, the Trump administration is attempting to push a reauthorization containing several changes through Congress — which is already prioritizing the HEA. As Trump plans to alter the student loan repayment process, Pell Grant distributions and the requirements for accreditation, many are concerned about the future of American colleges and universities. While the Trump administration claims these changes are an attempt to repair the severely broken financial system surrounding American higher education, many of these proposed changes will actually harm those who depend on financial assistance.

In part, these changes are the result of President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 budget, which aims to decrease education spending by over 10 percent, equalling around $7 billion. The White House is proposing that the majority of these cuts come from higher education funding by eliminating programs such as subsidized student loans, a specific student loan that does not accumulate interest until the student graduates. In addition,Trump plans on cutting the federal work-study program, which provides students the opportunity to finance their education through part-time employment at their school.

Other changes include Trump’s attempt to eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program designed to relieve student debt after 10 years for non-profit and government employees. With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimating that approximately 25 percent of American workers are and could be potentially eligible for the program, this proposal would have severe repercussions, especially considering many of these jobs are not lucrative enough to repay the substantial student debt obtained to qualify for these positions in the first place. Moreover, because these positions in many cases are relatively low paying, many college graduates do not pursue them, making the program that much more essential. Despite this program being severely mismanaged in the past — making it difficult for many deserving applicants to qualify for loan forgiveness — the idea is beneficial and needs reform, not elimination.

Additionally, Trump aims to implement caps on the amount of money that parents of students and graduate students can borrow through the PLUS program. This could be a significant burden on low-income students, who depend on these loans to finance their education. This coupled with Trump’s proposals to freeze Pell Grant awards and cut federal work study funding, puts low-income students at a severe financial disadvantage when seeking higher education, as they are left with relatively few options to meet steadily increasing tuition prices.

The Trump administration also aims to reverse many of the Obama administration’s regulations that strictly monitor for-profit colleges, specifically regarding the accreditation process that allows schools to qualify for federal funding. Essentially, Trump’s recommendations would make it much easier for schools to receive federal money with less federal oversight, as the number of requirements they must meet would be greatly reduced. This means that for-profit schools which have a history incredibly high number of default rates and even defrauding students, will be regulated far less stringently. 

As concern for American higher education continues to grow, many are looking to Congress in hopes they will stand up against some of Trump’s ludicrous proposals — which seems likely with a Democratic House majority. However, with higher education, specifically in regard to finances, becoming more bipartisan, many Republicans are looking at options the president would be willing to sign instead of compromising. Either way, this is an issue Congress hopes to address before the end of the year, but it remains to be seen what the reauthorization will end up looking like. Following these recommendations would be detrimental to the aspirations of many low-income students hoping to attend college in the future.

When discussing how Trump’s HEA reauthorization “would end up hurting students,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, referred to the proposals as a “feeble attempt to claim the Trump Administration is helping students.” Though several of these changes aim to address the national student debt crisis, they are actually moving us in the wrong direction. Students seeking higher education need more affordable options while simultaneously taking into account excessive student debt limits opportunities by being too burdensome. Higher education is an area that is ripe for reform, but Trump's proposals risk exacerbating the issue rather than making better. We urge Congress to go back to the drawing board and develop a solution that will address the many glaring issues in this country's higher education system.

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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