On March 11, the White House released its 2020 U.S. federal budget, further solidifying its legacy from past budgets of increasing defense and security spending. The budget outlines the Trump administration’s plans to drastically cut spending on social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and, by gutting student loan subsidies, education.
Cuts to healthcare spending are unsurprising at this point in the Trump presidency, but the proposed $7.1 billion in budget cuts to the Department of Education are especially worth focusing on, particularly in light of the growing number of reports that wealthy families are illegally paying to secure their children admission to prestigious universities. This federal budget, if passed in its current state, will only exacerbate the economic inequality that is already present within academia.
In essence, the primary goal of the federal budget is to reduce the U.S. government’s role in education. In other words, President Donald Trump and his cabinet intend to emphasize private schools and universities by cutting money allocated to their government-funded counterparts.
This is a principle which has long been at the forefront of President Donald Trump’s agenda, as well as the agenda of his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, but which also has very little pragmatic grounding.
For example, while there is some data to suggest that the academic outcomes for the graduates of private schools are generally superior to those of the graduates of public schools, this is also not an apples-to-apples comparison. A private university might select attendees based on the academic criteria decided upon by a board of trustees, whereas a public university must adhere to broader and more inclusive standards in order to remain somewhat accessible to students from all economic brackets.
Furthermore, private universities like Yale and Stanford usually incur far greater charges to the attendee’s family than a public university would. It follows, then, that a group of students selected for academic merit and wealth would generally outperform a group of students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. In short, to prioritize private education would be to serve the needs of a privileged minority of students rather than the majority.
If there is any significant difference between the benefits of a private university and a public one, it is one of societal perception. A graduate who can waive around a diploma from Stanford might generally be viewed as more accomplished than a graduate from our own UofA, but even this distinction is pretty arbitrary and rooted in brand recognition more than anything else.
This gap is only widened further because of the loopholes available to wealthy families that would like to attend more prestigious universities. On March 12, the FBI charged 50 people who participated in the bribery of prestigious universities in order to secure attendance for their children based on falsified athletic recommendations. This occurrence would have been entirely inconceivable were it not for the societally elevated position of private education.
Further budget cuts to the country’s spending on education will only worsen this perception issue. A key tenet of the 2020 budget cuts to the Department of Education is the dismantlement of student loan subsidies, which can sometimes rescue students from experiencing lifelong student loan debt.
Fortunately, it is entirely possible that the current version of the White House’s federal budget will be amended substantially once Congress is able, but the budget’s current propositions can be harmful without even being passed. Whether the cuts are in legislative form or not, low-income students might feel uncertain as to whether they can afford to take out a loan on their university tuitions, which might make the decision to pursue upper-level education more difficult than before.