Largely rejecting the Trump Administration’s proposals regarding student lending championed by Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the Department of Education, the $1.3 trillion budget deal announced by Congressional negotiators on March 21 includes a number of provisions that may aid students:
- The budget increases the Pell Grant award by $175 per student, bringing maximum Pell Grants up to $6,095 from $5,920. Approximately 27% of students receiving Pell Grants in the 2015-2016 school year received the maximum grant funding, and approximately eight million lower-income undergraduate students are eligible for Pell Grants annually. Unfortunately, grant amounts are not indexed to inflation, and their value remained unchanged between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years.
- The $732 million Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant received an additional $107 million in funding. This grant provides up to $4,000 annually for students with extraordinary financial need. Approximately 1.6 million students receive these grants; 71% come from families whose household incomes fall below $30,000.
- The budget increased funding for federal work-study programs by $140 million, bringing total funding up to $1.1 billion. Federal work-study programs help make on- and off-campus jobs available to part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students, and more than 300,000 students currently participate in federal work-study.
- The budget creates a $350 million fund to help support Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or “PSLF.” The program allows eligible borrowers to earn loan forgiveness by working in the public service sector and by making 120 qualifying payments. The budget actually expands this program by providing relief for borrowers enrolled in ineligible repayment plans but who would otherwise have qualified for relief.
- The budget provides $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant. This grant offers eligible students living in Washington, D.C. up to $10,000 per academic year to help reduce out-of-state tuition costs.
- The budget provides a $50 million increase for apprenticeship programs and, relatedly, raises funding for career and technical education programs by $75 million.
- The budget increases Education and Innovation Research Grants by $20 million, thereby bringing total funding to $120 million. These grants encourage states and local communities to develop evidence-based projects for improving education. Surprisingly, Congress rejected expanding funding to explore school choice initiatives.
- The budget provides $700 million for mental health counselors in schools and $25 million for mental health services through a Department of Health and Human Services program.
- The budget provides a 14% increase in funding for historically black colleges and universities (“HBCUs”), bringing total spending up to nearly $280 million in the 2018 fiscal year.
The House and Senate approved this spending bill on March 22 and 23. Although the President expressed frustration at the bill, he ultimately signed it on the afternoon of March 23, 2018.