Congress must reject Trump cuts to college access programs

Opportunity for low-income students hangs in the balance

FOR THE SECOND year in a row, President Trump has put forth a federal budget proposal that sends a dangerous message about this administration’s priorities for the nation’s students.

For more than 50 years, our nation’s higher education policy has supported a promise to academically qualified students: Put in the effort and work, and postsecondary education will be accessible to you regardless of your income level. Trump’s budget sends a clear signal that he wants our country to step back from that social pact, with cuts that deepen the division between the haves and the have-nots and leave behind millions who do not have the social supports and financial resources to access college.

While so many of the proposed student aid cuts are troubling — elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, deep cuts to the federal work-study program, eradication of the interest subsidy on student loans for the neediest students, and no increase to the maximum Pell Grant award for the next decade, to name a few — the decrease in federal funding for TRIO and GEAR UP college access programs would be especially damaging to Massachusetts residents and the state’s economy.  While the recently signed two-year budget deal saves some of these programs from being devastated in the short-term, it is clear that President Trump’s higher education agenda is not what millions of young Americans need to help them reach their education and career goals.

Each year federal TRIO (so-called because the government initiative was initially comprised of three programs) and GEAR UP programs help 1.3 million middle school, high school and adult students nationwide pursue education beyond high school. These students are primarily low-income and first-generation students. Without a family member to help them navigate the complex process of applying and paying for college, many of these students desperately need additional support and guidance from TRIO and GEAR UP professionals, such as academic tutoring, after-school programs, mentoring, and more.

Here in Massachusetts, TRIO and GEAR UP programs serve close to 30,000 students as they seek education after high school that will put them on the path to a good career. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that in just two short years, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.

Nowhere is that more apparent than here in our Commonwealth, where our lack of natural resources means we must rely on a knowledge-based economy. Brainpower is our solitary competitive edge, both nationally and globally. With professional, scientific, and technical occupations that require postsecondary education projected to be the growth-driver of our economy, we need all individuals, of all socioeconomic backgrounds, to reach their full educational and career potential so they can be ready for the jobs of tomorrow.

The president’s budget for fiscal year 2019 would begin to consolidate the TRIO and GEAR UP programs into a single block grant program to be administered by the states. Many of these existing programs have years, if not decades, of experience and results. They have shown prior accountability with program resources, created continuity of services, and become a known resource in the communities they serve and are relied on by thousands of families across the Commonwealth as the go-to source of college access information and supportive services.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Julie Lammers

Managing director of consumer advocacy and government relations, American Student Assistance
TRIO and GEAR UP are an essential piece of the puzzle to ensuring every student in Massachusetts can find opportunity in a changing world by pursuing the many roads to higher education, whether that be two-year college or four-year university. We call on Congress to continue to reject these harmful spending cuts in future budgets. Let’s retain our nation’s commitment to ensuring the pathways to higher education are open and accessible to Americans of all backgrounds and that we value the programs like TRIO and GEAR UP that support students along that path and ensure success.

Pamela Boisvert is CEO of Massachusetts Education & Career Opportunities, Inc. Julie Lammers is vice president of advocacy and government relations for the Boston nonprofit American Student Assistance.