How Higher Ed Would Fare in Congress's Spending Proposals

Pell Grants may see a modest increase, but separate appropriations proposals from Senate and House would largely keep programs in line with 2018 funding levels.

July 18, 2018
(Getty Images)

Student aid advocates who hoped to see a substantial boost to the Pell Grant will have to settle for a modest increase -- if any -- in a 2019 congressional spending package.

A Senate education funding package that cleared the appropriations committee last month would add $100 to the maximum value of the need-based grant, not enough to even keep pace with inflation. And a spending proposal approved by House appropriators last week would keep the maximum grant flat.

Lawmakers from both chambers will have to negotiate the final number for the grant in a final education package along with other differences in the bills.

Overall spending on most college access or student aid programs would be roughly in line with numbers from a March omnibus spending bill. A handful of priorities like Pell and career and work-force training would receive more funding in House and Senate proposals for the 2019 fiscal year, if less than advocates hoped.

Some advocates had asked for the value of the Pell Grant to at least keep pace with inflation -- closer to the $175 increase included in the omnibus deal. Others had offered more ambitious proposals to put the grant on course to eventually cover 50 percent of the cost of a four-year public college.

The Senate proposal, though, would raise the maximum Pell Grant by just $100, to $6,195 for the 2019-20 academic year.

“This is sort of what we had expected for this year,” said Megan Coval, vice president for policy and federal relations of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “Anytime we see an increase in Pell, we’re always going to be talking positively about that and thankful for that provision.”

Michele Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said the increase would not do nearly enough for low-income students.

“This increase would help to keep at bay further decreases in the grant’s purchasing power, but it falls short of making an impactful investment in our nation’s students in need as college costs continue to rise,” she said.

Notably for Pell advocates, the Senate proposal would also take $600 million from the Pell Grant reserve fund, which they say is important to maintain in case of a sudden increase in demand on the program. The House proposal would leave the surplus fund intact.

Other college aid programs like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study would be levelly funded in both proposals. Coval said that was still a positive development, because Congress added substantially to funding for those programs in the March omnibus bill. The SEOG program, for example, received a $107 million increase in that package. Both the Senate and House spending proposals would maintain that level of funding.

“This bill funds critical programs that will protect and save lives both now and in the future, and help prepare the next generation to be part of a productive work force to grow our economy and provide for their families,” said House Appropriations committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen after the approval of a Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education 2019 spending bill last week.

Congress has until September to pass a bill to fund the government, and congressional leaders plan to advance a series of smaller spending bills rather than a large omnibus bill like the one agreed to in March.

Both House and Senate spending proposals would also boost work-force training spending. The House bill would increase spending on Perkins Career and Technical Education State Grants to more than $1.3 billion from the $1.19 billion in the FY18 omnibus bill. The Senate bill provides just over $1.2 billion for those grants.

A partnership of work-force training advocacy organizations, the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce, had called for an investment in the Perkins program in line with the House proposal.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction given the funding cuts career and technical education has taken over the years,” said Kermit Kaleba, director of federal policy at the National Skills Coalition, a member group of the campaign.

Apprenticeship grants administered through the Department of Labor would also get a $5 million boost in the House bill, to $145 million. The Senate bill would provide $160 million for those grants.

The Senate bill includes an additional $8 million for the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to build the investigative capacity at the office. Congress included a similar increase in the March omnibus bill. But despite questions from lawmakers, the department has yet to share information on new hiring at the office.

And Senate appropriators also included $350 million to pay for an eligibility fix for student borrowers who did not qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness because of servicing errors. The same amount was included in the March funding package, and the department has since released guidance for borrowers seeking to apply for loan forgiveness through the temporary program.

Both funding proposals would also build on increased funding for the National Institutes of Health in recent appropriations cycles. NIH, which is the biggest supporter of university-based research in the U.S., would get $39.1 billion, or $2 billion over fiscal 2018 funding levels, in the Senate bill. It would get $38.3 billion, a $1.25 billion increase, in the House proposal.


Program FY 2018 Omnibus FY 2019 Senate Labor-HHS Bill FY 2019 House Labor-HHS Bill
Student Aid      
Maximum Pell Grant $6,095 (a $175 increase) $6,195 (a $100 increase from FY 2018) $6,095
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants $840 million $840 million $840 million
Federal Work-Study $1.1 billion $1.1 billion $1.1 billion
College Access      
TRIO $1.01 billion $1.01 billion $1.06 billion ($50 million increase from FY2018)
Loan Forgiveness      
Public Service Loan Forgiveness -- includes $350 million for eligibility fix ---
Career Training      
Perkins Career-Technical Education $1.19 billion $1.2 billion $1.3 billion
Civil Rights      
Office for Civil Rights $117 million $125 million $117 million

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Andrew Kreighbaum

Andrew Kreighbaum joins Inside Higher Ed as our federal policy reporter. Andrew comes to us from The Investigative Reporting Workshop. He received his master's in data journalism at the University of Missouri, and has interned at USA Today and a national journalism institute in Columbia, MO. Before getting his master's, Andrew spent three years covering government and education at local papers in El Paso, McAllen and Laredo, Texas. He graduated in 2010 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in history and was news editor at The Daily Texan.

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