Federal financial aid for college students has been slashed in proposed budget resolutions released by both the Senate and the House of Representatives last week.
The House resolution, which is more “defined,” according to Georgetown University Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming (SFS ’72), freezes the maximum Pell Grant for the next 10 years, removes the in-college interest rate subsidy and eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
According to Fleming, Pell Grants covered 77 percent of the tuition of public four-year institutions in 1990 but only covered 34 percent of that tuition in 2012. This year, 951 Georgetown students receive Pell Grant funding, but Fleming said that a 10-year freeze would further reduce their assistance.
“As tuitions go up over 10 years, this is going to make that [aid] even less,” Fleming said. “Those students are going to be negatively impacted if this goes into place.”
The budget also proposes cutting the subsidy that ensures that undergraduate students pay no interest on their loans while they are still in college. If a student borrowed $23,000 over four years, the maximum amount currently allowed, the removal of the subsidy would add $3,000 to the total, as they would now have to add the interest rate of 3.86 percent that had accrued over their time in college. The average subsidized loan total for Georgetown students that receive aid is approximately $17,500, lower than the maximum amount, according to Fleming.
Another worry that Fleming outlined was the dissolution of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which absolves all outstanding student loans for any person who has been in public service – defined as either government or non-profit work – for 10 years. President Barack Obama also proposed capping the program in his Student Aid Bill of Rights released March 10.
“If the federal workforce wants to recruit a talented, well-educated workforce, it strikes me as short-sighted to take away a benefit that’s out there for [students],” Fleming said. “They have the view that if you allow loan forgiveness, institutions won’t be worried about what they charge in tuition. … That strikes me as rather disingenuous.”
Fleming urged students to get involved by contacting their members of Congress, noting the impact of the policies on all students, not just those using federal loans.
“Even if you’re a student who doesn’t get a Pell grant or use a subsidized student loan, this has an impact on students everywhere,” Fleming said. “We are a need-blind, full-need institution, and we do not intend to deviate from that policy. Were some of these things to happen, it would require juggling university budgets so that we could remain a need-blind, full-need institution.”
The budget resolutions are not final documents and do not need to be signed by the President. Instead, they provide a framework for discussions about the budget and the appropriations process throughout the year.
While Fleming said the resolution will likely pass the House because of the strong Republican advantage, he predicted that it will see a more difficult fight in the Senate. Even if the resolutions do not pass, however, he noted that the ideas of cutting student aid funding could reappear later in the year, particularly with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act set for September.
The House will vote on the resolution Thursday, while the Senate will vote Friday.