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The 2020 Trump Budget: What it Means for Higher Education

The Trump administration has released its proposal for the 2020 federal budget, and, unsurprisingly, it includes extensive cuts to funding for the Department of Education and education programs: $7.1 billion in cuts to be exact. As it has done in the past two years under this administration, and especially now with Democrats in control of the House, Congress is likely to discount this budget proposal and to work toward appropriating spending increases where it sees fit. As suggested in a recent article in The Fiscal Times, this budget should be regarded less as a blueprint for future fiscal policy than as a political document, outlining the president’s priorities heading into the 2020 election campaign. So what does Trump’s budget proposal actually mean for higher education?

More than anything else, this year’s budget proposal signals the White House’s well-established priorities for higher education: that education policy should be a state and local issue in which the federal government should not have a hand. The administration’s talking points include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s statement that “[t]his budget at its core is about education freedom—freedom for America’s students to pursue their life-long learning journeys in the ways and places that work best for them . . . freedom from the top-down ‘Washington knows best’ approach that has proven ineffective and even harmful to students.” In that vein, they seek to eliminate a range of federal programs such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, in addition to cutting work-study funding and funds for scientific research in higher education, while dramatically increasing funding for the expansion of charter schools.

While most of the president’s proposed cuts to higher education programs will not be enacted by Congress, a recent article in The Atlantic argues that “what a president lays out as his priorities can inform debate on education spending. And since Trump doesn’t spend much time talking about education, this is also one way to gauge what’s on his administration’s agenda.” As the debate on higher education priorities resurfaces in the light of these new proposed cuts, advocates for public education and scientific research weigh in with concerns and critiques. James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access and Success warns, “As college remains more crucial for economic opportunity than ever before and costs continue to rise, these proposals move in the exact opposite direction that students and our economy need.” Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, adds that these cuts “would begin to cede American strength in science and innovation to our global competitors, slow the search for cures and make it more challenging for students to access higher education and climb the economic ladder.” Although Democrats and some Republicans are calling this budget dead on arrival, it makes the administration’s education agenda eminently clear and draws a bold line differentiating the education policy objectives of Democrats and Republicans, which are sure to be debated throughout this election year. Stay tuned.

Photo by the University of Illinois, Springfield, via Flickr





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