(Print Version. Elongated version to be uploaded soon.)
by Nat Frothingham
RANDOLPH CENTER — In the days leading up to May 23 release of the U.S. President Donald Trump administration’s proposed fiscal year 2018 U.S. budget — Amanda Chaulk, who is director of marketing and communications at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, talked by phone to The Bridge and worried aloud about the fate of TRIO — U.S. Department of Education programs designed to help disadvantaged students.
Federal TRIO Program Helps College Students
“TRIO refers to the three programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Service, which existed within this reauthorization of The Higher Education Act, and was designed to assist eligible students to begin and complete a post-secondary education,” according to www.sic.edu.
TRIO began with the passage of the federal Higher Education Act of 1965 when three programs were put in place to help disadvantaged students. Now, more than 50 years later, it has expanded into 13 programs.
Chaulk said that more than 1,000 students who qualify as “disadvantaged” are getting help from programs right now. She commended government investments in education that can help offset social services outlays in the long run. She noted also that college graduates have access to higher salaries compared to others in the same age group who do not attend college.
Chaulk pointed to a recent survey of the class of 2016 (with an 83 percent response) that reported that 100 percent of responding Vermont Technical College graduates have either landed a job or are pursuing further education beyond their degree.
Trump Explains Current US Budget Proposals
The Trump administration released its proposed fiscal year 2018 Budget on May 23. In his introduction to that U.S. budget, the president wrote.
“This budget’s defining ambition is to unleash the dreams of the American people. This requires laying a new foundation for American greatness. Through streamlined government, we will drive an economic boom that raises incomes and expands job opportunities for all Americans. Faster economic growth, coupled with fiscal restraint, will enable us to fully fund our national priorities, balance our budget, and start to pay down our national debt.”
Among other priorities, the newly released U.S. budget would add federal dollars for defense, border security, law enforcement along with an ambitious trillion-plus-dollar expenditure to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. As described in the proposed U.S. budget, that infrastructure includes: “surface transportation (roads, bridges, mass transit) waterways, ports, drinking and waste water, broadband and key Federal facilities.”
And wrote the president, “As this budget returns us to economic prosperity, it will also allow us to fund additional priorities, including infrastructure, student loan reform, and initiatives to help working families such as paid parental leave.”
At the heart of the just-released U.S. budget is a Trump administration commitment to control, often to cut, federal spending. These words from the U.S. budget, express that determination. “To help correct this and reach our budget goal in 10 years, the budget includes $3.6 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years, the most ever proposed by any President in a budget.”
Spending reductions are to come from cuts to existing programs and an administration promise to get rid of unnecessary federal regulations.
Some of the cuts will come from repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming Medicaid and welfare and “rolling back” federal regulations.
The proposed U.S. Budget takes aim at the overspending of what used to be called the “Food Stamp” program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutritious Assistance Program. These words from Trump’s budget message explain how the nutrition program can be cut.
“The budget proposes a series of reforms that closes eligibility loopholes, targets benefits to the neediest households, and requires able-bodied adults to work.”
The president had this to say about “education reform” in his proposed U.S. budget message. “We need to return decisions regarding education back to the state and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.”
Negative Reactions Proposed Trump Cuts
But back to the U.S. Department of Education TRIO program. According to a May 23 New York Times story, this is how the proposed new budget would deal with the program and a few other federal education programs. “Mr. Trump proposed deep cuts to educational programs that often benefit low-income students, including Pell grants, subsidized student loans, and the federal student assistance programs, which provide outreach and services to first-generation college students and people with disabilities.”
Kate Hamilton, a staff person working in the office of Vermont Congressman Peter Welch provided specific information about the cuts to the assistance program.
She said the proposed fiscal year 2018 (Trump administration) budget would continue to fund — but cut — these existing programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services. But the so-called “Educational Opportunity Centers” across the county, including an Educational Opportunity Center in Vermont run by the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation would be eliminated.
TRIO is funded at $808 million in the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget, and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs at $219 million. That is a decrease from $950 million and $340 million, respectively, from fiscal year 2017. The budget does not eliminate the Upward Bound, Talent Search or Student Support Services that are served under the programs, but funding for all of TRIO is reduced.
Chancellor and VTC President React
Here’s how Congressman Welch reacted to the overall Trump budget proposals released on May 23:
“The message to Americans in President Trump’s budget is clear: You are on your own. It doubles down on defense spending while gutting numerous programs that Vermonters depend on, including home heating assistance, Meals on Wheels and student financial aid. And the savings from these draconian cuts will pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This budget should be dead on arrival in Congress. I will do all I can to defeat it.”
Other highly placed state education leaders weighted in as well.
Jeb Spaulding, Chancellor of Vermont State Colleges had this reaction to the Trump administration proposed cuts. “The President’s budget would dramatically impact students from low- and moderate-income families with severe cuts to financial aid and student supports. At a time when our economy and our communities require the full participation of all, the federal government should be increasing access to postsecondary opportunities, not closing doors,”
Vermont Technical College President, Patricia Moulton, made this comment. “These cuts will undercut technical education deeply at a time when technical skills and education beyond high school are so desperately needed in the workforce.”