The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), an independent organization that is dedicated to increasing access and success in postsecondary education, is encouraged by President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012) budget proposal, which comes at a time when it is absolutely imperative to be cautious and conservative about spending. IHEP appreciates the Administration’s “cut and invest” approach to the FY 2012 budget— recognizing that the pressures to reduce our national deficit are real—but the need to make sound investments in education are just as crucial. We recognize that some tough choices had to be made in crafting the FY 2012 budget, but are grateful for the overall increase being given to education and the commitment to preserving educational opportunity for millions of low-income students by not compromising the Pell Grant maximum award of $5,550.
In the recent State of the Union address, the president outlined his vision for “winning the future.” To fully achieve this goal, investments in education are critical, and IHEP applauds Mr. Obama’s decision to “invest in what makes America stronger.” The president’s budget includes proposals that will help all students—especially underrepresented students, such as those from low-income, first-generation, and minority families—successfully enter and complete college. Efforts like the First in the World Fund ($123 million), College Completion Incentive Fund ($1.25 billion), College Pathways for Accelerated Learning ($86 million), increased investments for state access and completion programs ($150 million), and increased investments to the federal TRIO ($920 million) and GEAR UP ($323 million) programs will collectively help increase access and college completion rates for many students.
While it is clear that the FY 2012 budget introduces new programs and provides additional funding to several existing efforts that are connected to the president’s national goal of having the “highest share of college graduates by the year 2020,” we recognize that funding cuts in other areas had to be made. We caution the administration to reflect further on the modification of the two financial aid programs (i.e., elimination of awarding two Pell Grants in one award year, elimination of student interest subsidy for graduate and professional students), as these cuts may sacrifice the ability of many Americans to access and attain the college degrees needed to make our nation stronger.
Interestingly, the FY 2012 budget proposal comes as lawmakers are still finalizing spending for FY 2011, which is currently operating under a continuing resolution that expires on March 4. The proposal recently introduced by the leadership in the House of Representatives (HR 1) stands in direct opposition to the proposals introduced in both Mr. Obama’s FY 2011 and FY 2012 budgets. We strongly encourage policymakers to not haggle over these issues. We are not simply talking about numbers here; we are talking about actual lives—the lives of American college students of all ages—who deserve a chance at opportunity and for whom our nation needs for economic prosperity and security.
Centralizing the importance of education must continue to be a nonpartisan issue. If we are truly intent on “winning the future,” all policymakers must work toward the collective best interest of American citizens and ensure that our education priorities and programmatic spending are squarely aligned with the need to increase productivity, strengthen educational quality, and incentivize completion, particularly for our country’s underrepresented students.