President Obama called for the allocation of $165 billion to federal student aid in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 released Monday.
According to Georgetown’s Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming, the number represents an $11.5 billion jump from fiscal year 2012. Education spending saw the largest increase among all federal discretionary budget categories this year, Fleming said.
“I think the funding levels are good, especially given the budget constraints,” he said. “[They show] the president’s serious commitment to education as an important contributor to getting our economy in order.”
Federal funding for education is especially important to Georgetown students, who received $25.6 million in federal financial aid during the 2010-2011 school year.
The proposed budget includes $36.1 billion for Pell Grants, $1.1 billion for Federal Work Study and $8.5 billion for the Perkins Loan Program, all of which are major components of students’ financial aid packages. During the 2010-2011 academic year, 952 Georgetown students were awarded Pell Grants, 1,954 earned Federal Work-Study funding and 546 received Perkins Loans.
“This is the first year in many years [the nation] hasn’t been facing a shortfall in funding for the Pell Grant Program,” Fleming said.
But Georgetown’s ability to access new funding will be contingent on Obama’s newly announced Race to the Top program, which ties federal dollars to the cost of a university’s tuition. In this program, colleges will be graded according to their total costs, graduation rates, student loan repayment rates, average student loan debt and graduates’ earning potential.
Fleming worried that Obama’s new rules might lead to a decrease in the amount Georgetown receives for student aid based on the school’s high tuition.
Undergraduate tuition for fiscal year 2013 will rise to $42,360, a 3.5 percent increase over the current rate of $40,920.
“If they start fiddling with the formula, I don’t want our students to lose access to loans,” Fleming said. “It’s my feeling that we have a very good approach to making Georgetown an affordable institution for students of all economic levels … and I will do everything in my power to make sure that there aren’t some unintended consequences of what they’re doing that would undermine what we think is a very successful model.”
Obama also called for Congress to extend the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which caps interest rates on student loans at 3.5 percent. The law is due to expire July 1, after which rates would go up to 6.8 percent.
According to Fleming, neither Democrats nor Republicans have made much headway in making sure the act is extended.
“There will be some partisan back-and-forth about this and … I am not ready to predict the outcome,” he said.
The budget Obama laid out Monday must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to become law. According to Fleming, it could be months before the budget is finalized.
“The current Congress hasn’t exactly been a place where a whole lot has gotten done,” he said.
During last year’s budget process, Congress passed a series of month-long continuing resolutions to temporarily fund the government after reaching an impasse in April.
“There’s a pretty general assumption that a lot of the work of Congress is going to get done in a lame duck session [after the elections in November],” Fleming said.
“Those of us who do things like I do might be spending Christmas Eve on Capitol Hill,” he added jokingly.
Fleming said he will continue to work to increase the amount of funding allocated toward student aid programs.
“So much of this is so important to Georgetown students,” he said. “At a time when we are doing so much here to help low-income students … I don’t want to see anything stand in the way of our being able to do even more of that.”