If President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget were approved by Congress, the cost of college for those who take out federal student loans will be even greater than it is now.
The budget eliminates subsidized student loans as well as the public service loan forgiveness program, consolidates the current five student loan repayment plans into one program that among other things eliminates the standard repayment cap, which is based on a 120-month period, or 10 years. Eliminating the cap could potentially increase the total amount paid by borrowers enrolled in repayment programs if their incomes increase enough.
Other changes include reductions in graduate student loan borrowing and the requirement that married couples who file separately include combined adjusted gross income for purposes of student loan repayment, which would essentially impose a marriage penalty on the terms of repayment.
The budget proposal does not cut Pell grants, which is a first for this administration, though it does propose freezing the maximum grant level, according to Jessica Thompson, director of policy and planning at The Institute for College Access and Success. It extends Pell grants for use in certain short-term programs that don’t currently qualify for them and expands availability of these grants to incarcerated individuals scheduled for release within five years — both paid for from existing budgetary reserve funds for the Pell Grant program.
Despite its treatment of the Pell Grant program, the budget is “overall a terrible budget for higher education, since it makes no new investments when they are sorely needed and over $200 billion in net cuts to investment in higher education while investing little to none of those savings back into students,” Thompson said.
The administration’s proposed changes to higher ed spending are very similar to what it proposed previously, which Congress failed to approve, but many details are missing. The fact that these changes are being proposed in an election year makes them even less likely to gain congressional approval, especially with the Democratic-controlled House.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com, said the proposal was “dead on arrival” this election year. “Even Republicans didn’t go for this in the past,” Kantrowitz said.
He expects Congress will simply ignore Trump’s college loan proposals. “In election years even Republicans don’t want to make the student loan problem worse,” he said.
Currently about 44 million individuals in the U.S. owe a combined total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, a total second only to mortgages in terms of its size.
Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administratiors , tells ThinkAdvisor, “The spending cuts in the president’s proposed budget would devastate student access and success in postsecondary education, and should continue to be rejected outright by Congress, as has been done in previous years.”
Draeger is, however, “intrigued by proposed changes to borrowing limits,” by the authority given to financial aid administrators to limit student loans in certain circumstances and by the access to student loans given to prisoners enrolled in higher education. “We look forward to working with Congress and the administration on those ideas, while disregarding the short-sighted cuts to vital student aid programs,” Draeger said.
Bob Shireman, director of higher education excellence at The Century Foundation, was far less conciliatory. “Students and borrowers need relief, not higher costs and barriers,” he said. Shireman hopes that Congress will reject Trump’s proposal and “move forward with plans to make college more affordable, and to assist borrowers who are struggling to repay their loans.”
— Related on ThinkAdvisor: