Another Federal Budget Cut for College Students: Make Everyone Finish High School

In another move to save money, Congress’s new budget may prevent people who don’t have a high school diploma or a GED–but who are otherwise prepared to go to college–from accessing federal student loans. This is a policy with only limited fiscal logic, and no educational (or moral) justification whatsoever.

According to a piece by Libby Nelson in Inside Higher Ed:

Students who wanted to attend college, but didn’t have a high school diploma or GED, used to be able to get federal grants and loans through a back door: either take a basic skills test to prove their “ability to benefit” [ATB] from a college education, or successfully complete six credits.

This year’s federal budget, in an effort to trim spending on Pell Grants, shut off both routes. As of July 1, newly enrolled students are required to have a high school diploma or GED in order to receive federal financial aid.

The ATB loophole almost exclusively benefits poor and older college students, and the most talented ones at that, who have not completed high school in the normal manner but are otherwise ready for college (or vocational training).

According to the article, about 82,000 students are admitted ever year under the ATB provision. Given that the maximum Pell Grant benefit is $5,550 a year, the ATB elimination will save about $455 million a year.

Realistically the most common way to ever go to college involves either the high school diploma or the GED (ATB admits constitute less than 1 percent of the community college population), but this is yet another example of cutting financial aid programs that really benefit America’s least privileged in order to say a tiny amount of money.

If one really wanted to save money in the federal budget through education reform there are other, more dramatic, options. Preventing for-profit colleges from using federal financial aid, for instance, could save about $24 billion.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer