Republican Party budget blueprint demands less spending, regulation, in higher ed

'Republicans are very concerned that we get a good return on the money we are spending'

The Republican Party plan higher education calls for fewer federal regulations and less spending, to the dismay of some industry leaders, Mikhail Zinshteyn reports for the Hechinger Report

The budget blueprint introduced by House Republicans this year suggested cutting federal spending by $6.5 trillion over the next decade, which would significantly affect Pell Grants. The Committee for Education Funding (CEF), which opposes the cuts, determined that they would reduce Pell Grant spending by $78 billion over a decade.

The budget proposal also calls for capping the maximum per-student Pell Grant at about $5,800 annually for the next decade, countering President Barack Obama's plan to tie Pell Grant awards to inflation.

In addition, House Republicans seek to eliminate a subsidy under which the federal government covers the interest on Stafford loans for students enrolled in school. According to CEF, that would amount to $27 billion over a decade. The Institute for College Access and Success estimates that removing the subsidy would cost students on average an extra $4,900 each over a decade, hitting low-income students particularly hard.  

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"An enormous amount of hardworking taxpayer money goes into education in this country," says Virginia Foxx, Republican chair of the House subcommittee that oversees higher education and co-chair of the GOP platform committee. "Republicans are very concerned that we get a good return on the money we are spending."

But some higher education experts disagree. The Republican Party's proposed budget would "massively reduce federal support for students," says Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Republicans are also advocating for less regulation, arguing that it comes at a great cost to universities. However, no solid evidence exists to determine how much of an effect regulation has on institutions and students.

Trump's plans for higher ed

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has not been particularly outspoken about higher education, but he has discussed several plans, such as reducing the Education Department and granting private banks the power to issue federally guaranteed loans to students.

He would allow student loans to be refinanced, a position shared with Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Trump and Democrats such as Warren have also supported penalizing institutions whose students do not earn enough post-graduation to pay their loans. 

Learn more about how Trump might approach higher ed as president

In addition, Trump has proposed tying the availability of student loans to students' majors so that lucrative fields such as engineering would get preference over disciplines such as the humanities. However, the proposal has been criticized by some even within Trump's own party (Zinshteyn, Hechinger Report, 7/18). 

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