The cost of college, which is already a stretch for many families, would increase substantially if President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget took effect.
The Trump budget, released Tuesday, proposes more than $143 billion in cuts for student loans and student aid over 10 years, beginning in fiscal 2018. The proposed cuts for that year alone total more than $4 billion. Congress, of course, is in charge of the budget, deciding on what gets cut and what gets added but the president’s proposal, being the first out of the gate, could have some impact.(Related: Who’s to Blame for the Rise in Student Loan Debt and Defaults?)
The Trump budget reduces student loan assistance in several ways:
- It eliminates government subsidized loans, which account for about $1 trillion of the $1.4 trillion student loans outstanding. As a result, interest on those loans would begin to accrue as soon as the money is borrowed and continue to accrue during the six months after graduation, a period during which the government currently pays the interest.
- It eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows graduates who work in government at any level — federal, state or local — or in tax-exempt not-for-profit organizations to have their loans forgiven after 120 payments, provided they work for a qualified employer during that time.
- It creates a single income-driven repayment (IDR) plan from the five that exist now. Repayments would equal 12.5% of discretionary income over 15 years for students who were enrolled in undergraduate programs and 12.5% of discretionary income over 30 years for those who were enrolled in graduate programs. After those time periods the remaining balance would be forgiven.
Under the most generous repayment programs currently, REPAYE and PAYE, undergraduates pay 10% of discretionary income for 20 years before forgiveness and graduate students pay 10% for 20 or 25 years. Graduate students would end up paying more under the Trump proposal, but all students could end up with bigger bills because caps on monthly payments would be eliminated, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com, a free web site focusing on college admissions and financial aid.
- It eliminates the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants given to colleges for needy low-income college students. Grants range between $100 and $4,000 a year, but about half of undergraduates receive $500, according to Kantrowitz.
- It “significantly” reduces funds for the Federal Work-Study program, according to the budget, by cutting the number of eligible students in half and reducing payments.
- It makes Pell Grants, which provide tuition aid for low-income students, available year-round rather than in the fall and spring but it ends the inflation adjustment provision for these grants.
The Trump budget is “a recipe for less affordable college, more student debt and more inequality,” says Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access & Success, a research nonprofit and policy organization dedicated to making college more affordable and debt more manageable.
“Overall it removes billions of dollars from programs that help students offset college costs and limit the need to borrow in the first place. And for many students it makes it harder for them to repay.”
For example, according to Asher, teachers who typically have $44,200 in student loan debt (if they have a master’s degree) and a starting salary of $36,100 may pay twice as much (an additional $50,000 under the proposed IDR plan with a 30-year repayment period for graduate debt than if they had 15 years to repay, and more than three and a half times more (over $70,000 more) than under the current Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which requires only 10 years of payments.
That change and others could make it harder for communities “to recruit and retain teachers, police officers, doctors, and other professionals, particularly in underserved rural areas,” says Asher.
Kantrowitz finds solace in the fact that Congress “is the one who decides the budget” although the Trump budget “may give political cover to those who want to make cuts,” including cuts in student loan forgiveness programs. “They’re not favored by Congress,” says Kantrowitz, but he would be surprised if Congress reduces the federal work study program.
“No one wants to be blamed for making college less affordable,” says Kantrowitz.
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