A 2015 budget plan narrowly approved by the House of Representatives late last week would impose major cuts on higher education, including a 10-year freeze on Pell grants and reduced funds for student loans.
The plan from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Budget Committee chairman, would cut federal spending by $5 trillion and hit virtually all areas of domestic spending, including the health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. But education advocates criticized the higher education provisions, one of which would freeze the maximum Pell grant for the next 10 years.
Coming a year after automatic cuts known as sequestration trimmed federal spending, the new plan would make even deeper reductions.
“The Republican budget of 2014 is sequester on steroids,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Tex, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Members approved the plan by a 219-205 vote that fell largely along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Democrats and 12 GOP lawmakers opposed the measure.
The freeze in the maximum Pell — now at $5,730 — could result in cuts of $125 billion during the next 10 years, said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Pell “already covers less than a third of college costs” even as college tuitions continue to increase, he said.
Another provision of the plan would reduce federal support for student loans by $48 billion.
Many low-income students qualify for Pell Grants and carry student loans, says The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), an organization that focuses on college affordability. In an analysis of the House GOP budget, TICAS says nine of 10 Pell Grant recipients also rely on student loans and have average debt that is nearly $5,000 more than students from higher-income households.
“Cutting their Pell grants will force these students to borrow even more, drop out or forgo college altogether,” said Pauline Abernathy, TICAS vice president.
Despite the cuts, many observers say the plan has little chance of gaining approval in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Noting that both parties came together four months ago to pass a short-term budget deal, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Senate Budget Committee chair, said the House-approved measure is a step in the wrong direction.
“House Republicans decided to retreat into their partisan corner instead of working with us to build on our bipartisan deal,” she said.
But House GOP leaders said the plan, called the Path to Prosperity, reflects their goal to provide for a balanced federal budget with less spending.
“This budget lays out a long-term vision for the country. It will grow the economy and create jobs,” Ryan said. “It builds off a simple fact: we can’t keep spending money we don’t have.”
Prior to the House vote on the Ryan plan, lawmakers rejected an alternative budget proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) that would have poured another $6 billion into Pell Grants. The budget would have increased the maximum grant to $6,500 per student, an increase of $770. The CBC budget also proposed more funding for historically Black colleges, school modernization, food stamps and job training program. It would have raised revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes.
“Unlike the Republican budget, the CBC budget seeks to help working families and struggling Americans by reducing poverty and income inequality,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., who led debate on the caucus measure. The CBC budget failed in a vote of 300-116.