A substantial increase in federal education spending could make college more affordable for many students in need of financial assistance.
In March, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. The bill will keep the government open for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, which began in October.
The bill provides increases to most higher education programs, notably a $107 million increase to the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed eliminating the program, Inside Higher Ed reported. The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants to help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of postsecondary education.
The bill also includes a $140 million increase to the Federal Work-Study Program and raises the maximum Pell Grant by $175 to a total of $6,095, Inside Higher Ed reported. A Pell Grant is a federal grant for undergraduate students with financial need.
While many of the spending increases were victories for Democrat-supported programs, the $350 million in funding aimed to address eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is a fraction of the $4 billion Democrats were hoping for, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The program is a top priority of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-M.A., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-V.T., As of September 30, 2017, outstanding student loan debt in the United States stood at $1.36 trillion.
The Institute for Higher Education Policy released a statement in support of the bill’s education efforts the night before it was signed. IHEP is a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to promoting access to and success in higher education for all students.
“This draft spending plan includes targeted support for our hardworking students seeking to reach their full potential by pursuing a college education,” the statement said. “IHEP urges lawmakers to pass this bipartisan plan without delay."
President Donald Trump signed the bill into law after threatening to veto it but did not cite any issues with the bill’s educational provisions.
Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, said in an email the big winner of the bill was the Labor Department’s apprenticeship grants, which saw a 52.6 percent increase in funding.
The U.S. Department of Labor funds many apprenticeship programs that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.
The grants are largely a Republican-supported program, she said, but the rest of the bill seems to be a rejection of some of DeVos' goals.
While many programs received substantial spending increases, Pell Grant recipients will benefit the most, Robinson said.
“I think the increase that will affect the largest number of students is probably the increase in the maximum Pell Grant,” she said. “The increase will help America's neediest students afford higher education.”
While the bill addresses issues in education spending, it does not provide any long-term education reform both parties are seeking.
The next step is to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, an issue which Robinson says likely will not be addressed before the midterm elections.
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