UNCF Applauds Federal Student Aid Victories in FY 2017 Budget

Urges Even Greater Investment in Students in FY 2018 Budget

UNCF applauds Congress for several federal student aid victories included in the final FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Act (H.R. 244) that will enable students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to become college-educated leaders in their communities. UNCF urges swift passage of the bill, but notes that there is much more work to be done.

“The FY17 appropriations bill contains a mixed bag of wins and losses for HBCU students,” said UNCF president and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax. “A more robust investment in federal student aid programs will enhance college access, improve college outcomes—both persistence and degree completion—and lower student debt. And, as we have said before, degree completion is directly tied to creating the college-educated workforce needed to fill high-skilled jobs of today’s global economy.”

A key win for the 70 percent of HBCU students who receive Pell Grants to earn college degrees is the bill’s restoration of year-round Pell Grants, allowing an estimated one million students to receive a third grant averaging $1,650 to attend summer school, in addition to grants for two other academic semesters.  The maximum Pell Grant receives a scheduled inflationary increase of $105 to $5,920 for the 2017-18 academic year. 

UNCF and the broader higher education community have pushed for the restoration of summer Pell Grants since they were taken away by Congress in 2011 in a budget-cutting move. Among the many members of Congress who pushed for the restoration of summer Pell Grants in the FY17 appropriations bill, UNCF especially thanks Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), who first included the summer Pell restoration in the Senate FY 2017 education appropriations bill last year and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who expressed his support this year after learning from HBCU presidents at the HBCU Fly-In, hosted by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Representative Mark Walker (R-NC), that summer Pell Grants were a priority. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also was instrumental in signaling the Trump Administration’s support.

This good news, however, is offset by an unfortunate $1.3 billion cut to Pell Grant reserve funds. This funding cancellation does not affect the Pell award for the coming year, but lowers reserves available to finance sorely needed future program improvements. The Trump Administration proposed to cancel the $1.3 billion in Pell funds in FY17 and $3.9 billion in FY18.

“UNCF has long fought for restoration of summer Pell Grants and increasing the maximum award, and we applaud Congress for making this a reality for most HBCU students who rely on these critical funds,” said Lomax. “We are discouraged, however, by the $1.3 billion cut to the Pell reserve at a time when HBCU students are saddled with student loan debt. We will continue to make the case that all Pell resources should be used for Pell students.”

The FY17 appropriations bill continues $1.7 billion in funding for Federal Work-Study, which benefits 26,000 HBCU students, and for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs), which benefit 55,000 HBCU students. This funding demonstrates bipartisan Congressional support for these programs, which are slated for cuts in the administration’s FY18 budget blueprint. UNCF will continue to communicate the importance of these programs to HBCUs to both Congress and the administration.

The other big winners in the FY17 omnibus bill are two notable college-prep programs: TRIO and GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program), which will respectively receive a $50 million (six percent) increase and a $17 million (five percent) increase. Both programs are slated for cuts in the Trump Administration’s FY18 budget. Additional investments to these programs mean higher numbers of better-prepared, low-income students can get to and through college.

As Congress and the Trump Administration move to consider the FY18 budget and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we urge increased investments in core federal student aid programs to keep higher education in reach for African American and low-income college students.

 

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About UNCF:
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students' education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF annually awards $100 million in scholarships and administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized trademark, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org, or for continuous news and updates, follow UNCF on Twitter, @UNCF and #HBCUFacts.