As they listened to President Bush vow in last week's State of the Union speech to kill 150 federal programs in his forthcoming budget proposal, college officials had to wonder whether the targets would include some they hold dear.
The answer delivered Monday by the administration's budget plan  for the 2006 fiscal year was a definitive Yes.
And the complaining -- and the lobbying -- began immediately.
The Education Department's budget  for 2006 would eliminate 48 programs, including several significant ones for colleges: the Perkins Loan Program that provides loans to low-income students, mostly at four-year colleges; the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education program, which provides nearly $500 million a year to career programs at community colleges; and the Gear Up, Upward Bound and Talent Search programs that help low-income middle- and high-school students prepare for colleges of all kinds.
Most other Education Department programs important to colleges, including Work Study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants,would receive no increase or minor cuts in their federal support.
College lobbyists engaged in a delicate dance as they sought both to express appreciation for the good news contained in the budget -- especially a plan to bolster the Pell Grant Program -- and the severe tradeoffs that accompanied that good news. Typical was a statement  from six leading college associations, led by the American Council of Education, that applauded the administration for "bold and comprehensive proposals" to help low- and middle-income families finance higher education but added: "At the same time, we are disappointed with other proposals in the president's budget that would eliminate long-standing, successful programs that have done a great deal to help students and families."
Community college officials were especially vexed. Over the last year, they have basked in the spotlight as President Bush has proposed spending $250 million on a new program to train workers in high-demand, high-growth industries, largely through community colleges, and another $125 million on a program to encourage dual enrollment in high school and community colleges. Two-year-college officials have heaped praise on the president for recognizing the value of the institutions and the students they enroll.
Yet the federal budget that proposes that spending also would obliterate other programs that, taken together, dwarf what two-year institutions would get from the new ones. In addition to eliminating the vocational education funds and the Gear Up, Talent Search and Upward Bound programs, the budget plan would eliminate more than $100 million in funds for the Tech-Prep program that links high schools and colleges and slash spending on adult education, which also benefits community colleges, from $569 million in 2005 to $200 million in 2006.
"This budget is absolutely a net loss" for community colleges, said David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, who said he was caught "off guard" by the proposal to eliminate about $1.2 billion in annual spending on the Perkins vocational program. Community colleges receive about 40 percent of those funds, which they use to improve their technical and other vocational programs.
Such a move is foolhardy in a budget that claims to focus on improving the American economy and training workers for it, an association of technical education officials said. "Community and technical colleges are on the front lines of preparing youth and adults with the skills needed to succeed in the workforce," said Kimberly Green, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. "At a time when our nation's economic heath and prosperity relies so heavily on the availability and quality of our nation's skilled workforce, the president's budget proposal eliminates Perkins's critical federal investment in community and technical colleges. This will likely result in critical programs that meet the needs of employers and workers shutting down."
The technical education consortium quickly offered its members a sample letter  to use in contacting their Congressional representatives. That was the most aggressive, but far from the only, hard-core lobbying in which college associations engaged immediately on Monday.
Arnold L. Mitchem, executive director of the Council for Opportunity in Education, which lobbies on behalf of the TRIO programs for low-income students, which include the targeted Talent Search and Upward Bound, decried what he called the administration's "spurious assault" on them, and cast an eye toward lawmakers. "We are confident that members of Congress will object to this wholesale disposal of popular and successful programs that, since 1965, have helped two million first generation students earn college degrees and find rewarding careers," he said. (An article from Mitchem about the proposed elimination of Talent Search and Upward Bound is here.  )
Similarly, Hector Garza, head of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, which lobbies for Gear Up, said:  "It is our sincere hope that members of Congress -- from both parties -- will be guided by courage and common sense to ensure that this highly successful education program focused squarely on raising the academic achievement of low-income middle and high-school students is restored to its rightful place in the overall plan to help our neediest students achieve at high levels."
The Administration's Rationale
At a briefing to outline the budget plan Monday, administration officials stood firm as a parade of education advocates and lobbyists took to the microphones to blast various proposals. Education Department leaders said an administration review had shown most of the programs on the chopping block to be ineffective -- or at least had failed to prove that they were effective.
C. Todd Jones, a budget official at the department, noted that the president's budget calls for pouring nearly $1.5 billion into expanding the No Child Left Behind law to high schools, and that some of that money could be used to fulfill the goals of the Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Gear Up programs, which aim in a variety of ways to prepare low- and middle-income students for college. "It isn't that the goals sought by those programs aren't important," Jones said. "We just think there are better ways to achieve them."
Jones argued repeatedly that extending No Child Left Behind to high schools would result in a better educated and prepared pool of young people, eventually reducing the need, he implied, for programs that focus on improving the academic preparation of young people.
Plans for the Pell
College officials were generally pleased by the administration's plan  to raise the maximum Pell Grant by $500 over five years, to $4,550 in 2010, and wipe out the program's $4.3 billion deficit, which has limited increases in the funds available for students and thereby degraded the spending power of the grant. But they took issue with the department's strategy for producing the funds that would make those enhancements possible.
Some of the money would come from recalling, over 10 years, the $6 billion pool of federal funds that colleges use to make loans to needy students in the Perkins Loan Program. But most of the remaining funds would depend on Congress making a set of changes in how the student loan programs are administered, including cutting federal subsidies for lenders and agencies that guarantee student loans and changing the terms at which students can consolidate loans that may be less favorable to borrowers.
Unless lawmakers agree to make those changes -- and many if not most of them are controversial and will face ferocious opposition from banks, advocates for students, or college lobbyists -- the government will not have the money to invest in the Pell program.
Sally L. Stroup, the Education Department's top higher education official, warned the lobbyists at the department's briefing Monday against efforts to pick and choose among the offerings in the department's plan. "This is a package proposal," she said. "If you start pulling the package apart, it all falls apart."
That didn't seem to persuade college lobbyists, though, who were clearly positioning themselves for the coming fights in Congress. Cynthia A. Littlefield, director of federal relations at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, noted that legislation  that House Republicans reintroduced last month to extend the Higher Education Act clearly backs the continuation of the Perkins Loan program.
And Larry Zaglaniczny, director of Congressional relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, thanked Stroup and the other department officials for the parts of the plan "that we like." As for the rest, he said, "we'll see."
Your move, Congress.
Budget for Selected Education Department programs
|Program||2004 appropriation (000s)||2005 appropriation (000s)||2006 proposal (000s)|
|Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants||770,455||778,720||778,720|
|Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships||66,172||65,643||0|
|Presidential Math and Science Scholars||n/a||n/a||50|
|Strengthening Institutions program||80,986||80,338||80,338|
|Strengthening Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities||23,287||23,808||23,808|
|Strengthening Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Institutions||10,935||11,904||6,500|
|Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities||222,764||238,576||240,500|
|Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions||53,100||58,032||58,500|
|Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions||93,993||95,106||95,873|
|International education/foreign language||103,680||106,819||106,819|
|Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education||156,905||162,604||22,211|
|Vocational education (Carl D. Perkins)||1,195,008||1,194,33||0|
|Tech Prep State Grants||106,665||105,812||0|
|Community College Access||n/a||n/a||125,000|
|Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need||30,616||30,371||30,371|
|Research and statistics||496,735||523,233||479,064|
|Office for Civil Rights||88,305||89,375||91,526|