Chairman Ryan’s Budget Proposal Stiffs College Students

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Wednesday night, the House Budget Committee passed a budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year that could make already tough times even tougher for college students. The bill was introduced earlier in the week by Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and cuts spending to $20 billion below the level Congress agreed to last year. It repeals healthcare reform and, under the pretext of simplifying the tax code, reduces individual tax rates to only two brackets: 10 percent and 25 percent. It also lowers corporate tax rates.

Apart from promising to close tax loopholes, the proposal is vague on how it would pay for the tax cuts — except that it anticipates cutting and restricting programs targeted for college students. The proposal doesn’t specify how much Pell will be cut — not uncommon for a budget proposal — but the $200 billion reduction it demands from education and the workforce spending over 10 years is an ominous sign. The bill next heads to the House floor for a vote.

Astonishingly, Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal suggests the federal government is primarily responsible for the cost spike. This bizarre logic allows him to argue that denying low-income and working-class students modest aid from the Pell program will help rein in college costs. 

Ryan’s proposal claims to put the Pell Grant program on a “sustainable path by limiting the growth of financial aid and focusing it on low-income students who need it the most.”  But that work was done last year with the 2011 budget agreement and 2012 omnibus. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects almost no average annual growth in Pell Grant costs over the next 10 years. 

The proposal also expects job-training programs and Pell to track the type of training provided, the cost per student and, for five years after students complete their programs, their employment, whether or not students are working in the field for which they were trained, and whether they use other federal support programs such as SNAP benefits.

While all the details on this proposal are not yet clear, it is apparent that it would further limit access to higher education for low-income and working-class students — opening wider the divide between haves and have-nots. And that’s clearly not a sustainable path for our economy or our democracy.

— Lynn Jennings