President’s budget plan aims to supplement college accessibility

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Emphasizing the middle class as the forefront of the White House’s agenda, the Obama administration’s 2016 fiscal budget plan includes various policies to make higher education more attainable for students.

The budget, released Monday, outlines a plan to award successful students with two years of tuition-free community college education, which the president has discussed since January. Additionally, it aims to ensure that Pell Grants keep up with inflation over the next several years and to expand the Pay As You Earn plan, which helps student borrowers manage existing debt. The budget also proposes simplifying tax incentives for 25 million Americans

“I have generally liked (Obama’s) budgetary moves around higher education, and this plan shows incremental progress,” said Jesse Rothstein, a campus associate professor of public policy and economics. “(This budget plan) is in line with the themes that have been there in past proposals.”

This budgetary plan, however, is a list of proposals that require cooperation from Congress to come to fruition.

“Anything that eases the debt burden on college students and their families is a welcome move,” said Stephen Rosenbaum, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley Schools of Law and Public Policy, in an email. “It remains to be seen whether the President will convince a Republican-controlled Congress to appropriate the necessary funds for his proposed university grants, programs and initiatives.”

UC President Janet Napolitano praised the Obama administration’s efforts in a statement Monday.

“For our country to continue to thrive, it is essential that sequestration ends and that our government makes investments that will allow us to continue to educate the next generation of skilled workers and leaders,” Napolitano said in the statement. “I look forward to working with our members of Congress … to highlight how critically important the federal government’s investment in student financial aid, research and healthcare programs are for the University and for California.

Rosenbaum also acknowledged more local political tension affecting university budgets. He noted that Governor Jerry Brown and Napolitano have been “sparring” over the government’s role in funding higher education.

Brown’s budget proposal, unveiled in January, conflicts with a plan passed by the UC Regents to raise tuition if the state does not provide more than the 4 percent funding increase proposed by Brown. Brown’s 4 percent funding increase is contingent on UC tuition remaining flat.

Brown and Napolitano have been scheduled to discuss university finances in a committee together and report to the UC Board of Regents in March.

“Given our local policy-making tradition, the federal government can do little to influence higher education policy, beyond sending more money to the states and easing the financial burden on students and their families,” Rosenbaum said in an email. “But that’s already a needed boost.”

Staff writer Frances Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Contact Becca Benham at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beccabenhamdc.