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The flaw in President Trump’s higher education budget might be funny – if it weren’t so serious

May 30th, 2017

By Rich Nickel

President Trump made his first attempt at a federal budget recently, and it makes no sense.

I don’t mean I don’t like it – I mean it literally makes no sense.

It has a fundamental, mindboggling logic flaw that might be funny if it didn’t have such harsh impact on the lives of young people and the country’s economy.

Let’s start here: President Trump’s proposed revenue budget is based on two overly optimistic primary assumptions:

  1. The country will experience an economic growth pattern that is significantly higher than has been realized over the last several years; and
  2. There will be a significant increase in the already high levels of employment and output of American workers.

I hope he is right.  My experience tells me that he is not. But we haven’t even gotten to the truly illogical part. Here’s the real problem: the higher education cuts he has outlined in the FY2018 budget are not only totally incompatible with that goal—they would actually produce the opposite effect.

Just think about it logically for one moment: How can we possibly drive the economy to the dizzying heights needed to produce big revenue gains if we are cutting the exact programs that help increase attainment among middle-and low-income students, the very people that must be employed at higher rates to achieve the growth the budget assumes will happen?

How can the budget expect revenue from a huge increase in economic growth and employment – while at the same time eliminating or slashing the funding for the very programs that people need to become employed and fill those jobs in the first place?

It literally makes no sense.

Student loan forgiveness programs and subsidies, Federal Work Study, TRIO, and Gear-UP enable the children of middle class families and those with high financial need to obtain the education so desperately needed to help their families climb up the economic ladder.  Some of these programs help the most vulnerable students, those who wouldn’t be able to access a postsecondary education without substantial assistance.

There are some folks in D.C. who get it. Workforce experts at Georgetown University tell us that in the next few years 70% of jobs in the U.S. will require some type of education or professional training in addition to a high school (secondary school) diploma.  This is commonly known as postsecondary attainment.  Today, our nation’s attainment rate is about 45%, which means that we have a labor force that is not aligned with the needs of tomorrow’s employers.

We need to invest more to help people increase their employable skills, not less.

Since the great recession, 99% of the new jobs created went to those people that had some type of postsecondary credential (certificate or degree).  Moving forward, every job that goes unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants only makes the employability deficiency currently facing our country even worse. Cutting funding for programs that help students from middle- and low-income families prepare for college and career will likely move us further away from having an employable workforce and continue to increase the skills gap currently plaguing our country.  Senseless.

It seems simple to me. Our opportunity to drive this fantastical growth depends on improved performance of the group that today is not participating in the economy at high enough rates.  This opportunity group must be more highly educated to take advantage of the good jobs that need to filled. To be more highly educated, many need a boost from programs like TRIO and Gear-UP that are on the chopping block. The reverse is also true. If the opportunity group does not participate at higher rates, because the helpful programs are cut through the budget process, then they can’t contribute to the healthy, growing economy that President Trump’s budget relies on.

To increase our competitiveness and drive the economy to new heights, we should be targeting more funding to programs like TRIO and Gear-UP – not reducing or eliminating it. It just makes sense.


Rich Nickel is the President and CEO of College Success Arizona

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