Trump asks for $10 billion in cuts to education in new budget proposal

On Tuesday, President Trump unveiled a proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018 that would include significant cuts to higher education and programs for low-income Americans.

Combined, proposed cuts to federal education programs total more than $10 billion. The proposal would slash the Department of Education's budget by $9.2 billion, around 13.6% of its current budget. It would also chop funding for federal work study in half, eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and shrink the budget for the National Institutes of Health by a fifth.

The proposal, called "A New Foundation for American Greatness," is viewed as an outline of the administration's federal funding requests. But Congress ultimately drafts and approves federal spending measures, which the president must sign into law—and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers already have sharply criticized many of the Trump administration's proposed cuts.

Major changes to financial aid programs

Some of the biggest changes are proposed for federal financial aid. The proposal would cut roughly $1 billion in federal subsidies on student loan interest, which NPR reports would increase the cost of college by thousands of dollars and hit low-income students the hardest.

The proposal would also streamline the wide range of loan repayment options available to students down to just one. The proposed repayment system would cap monthly payments at 12.5% of discretionary income and forgive undergraduate loans after 15 years. The Trump administration also proposed phasing out the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, accepting no new participants after July 2018. The administration estimates eliminating the program will save approximately $3 billion per year, though this is higher than other estimates of the program's cost.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also announced last week that the Education Department plans to choose one company to service student loans, to replace the nine companies it currently partners with. Acting Undersecretary James Manning said at the time that cutting down the number of partners would help the department monitor the company's service to students more closely.

Billions in cuts to other support and research programs

This version of the proposal includes some major cuts anticipated by previous budget proposals and a leaked document obtained by the Washington Post:

  • The federal work-study program would lose $488 million, roughly half of its current budget;
  • Grants to states for career and technical education would lose $168 million;
  • GEAR UP would lose $103 million;
  • Federal TRIO programs, $90 million; and
  • International education and foreign language programs, $72 million.

The proposal would eliminate some programs entirely. In addition to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, the Trump administration proposes eliminating the Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants program ($190 million), Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ($732 million), and AmeriCorps program.

Also see: What the Trump administration means for community colleges

The proposal also includes several cuts to scientific and medical research programs that could affect university researchers. Overall, the proposal cuts the budget for the National Institutes of Health by roughly one fifth, down from $31.8 billion to $26 billion. Specific cuts include:

  • National Cancer Institute would lose $1 billion;
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would lose $575 million; and
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would lose $838 million.

The National Science Foundation would also see a budget cut of $776 million. The plan also slashes spending for the Department of Energy's Office of Science (17% cut) and research into energy sustainability (70% cut), among other cuts.

The cuts to research funding come at an already challenging time, says Ingrid Lund, a practice manager with EAB's University Research Forum. Federal research funding was already stagnating, Lund explains. She notes that federal funding, which makes up the majority of research funding, has failed to keep up with research growth at many institutions for the past several years. "If this budget is passed, some institutions will certainly see sizeable reductions in their research enterprise," Lund says.

She suggests that "universities will need to continue looking to alternative funding sources like corporate entities or philanthropic donors to make up the shortfall," which means research leaders are thinking about how they present their team's work to those partners.

"Increasingly, chief research officers are recognizing that they need to do a better job communicating the value of research to relevant stakeholders beyond just critical findings in prestigious journals," Lund says, adding, "More and more, research administration teams are focusing on articulating the broader impact: jobs created, patents developed, and drugs approved."

Learn more: How federal funding deficits are affecting the research enterprise

Spending increases

The budget proposal does include spending increases to some programs, particularly those related to school choice at the K-12 level, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has cited as a major priority.

The proposal would also support year-round Pell Grants, which were reinstated in the previous budget that funded the government through the end of FY 2017. However, it would not tie Pell Grant awards to inflation and would not increase the maximum grant award.


Presidential budget proposals tend to get their rough edges sanded off when they pass through Congress on their way to becoming law, Anya Kamenetz writes for NPR. And members of Congress have already started to suggest their version of the budget will be more moderate.

"Congress will write the budget and set the spending priorities. Where we find good ideas in the president’s budget, we will use them," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), chair of the Senate's committee on education, writes in a statement.

The budget proposal would be particularly damaging to low-income and first-generation students, says Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, adding that "For these students, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial-aid package."

(Wong, The Atlantic, 5/23; Achenbach/Sun, Washington Post, 5/23; Kamenetz, NPR, 5/22; Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post, 5/19; Harris, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/23; Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, 5/24).

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