Education and Training are Top Priorities in President Obama’s 2013 Budget

There is good news in President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for millions of lower-skilled and low-income Americans who need postsecondary credentials to compete in the job market and support their families.

Released Monday, the president’s budget proposal clearly demonstrates the administration is committed to making the smart education and job training investments necessary in a strong and globally competitive economy.

The administration proposes $36.1 billion to fully fund the Pell grant program through the 2014-2015 academic year. The plan preserves access for working and nontraditional students whose eligibility was threatened in budget debates last year. This funding would cover the scheduled increase in the maximum Pell grant to $5,635 and would be sufficient to fill the projected significant Pell funding shortage in fiscal year 2014. To pay for fully funding Pell, the budget proposes to protect the $1.5 billion generated in fiscal year 2013 after cuts to Pell in the previous budget as well as generating savings through changes to the Perkins loan program, subsidized students loans, and reducing fees paid to loan guarantee agencies for certain borrowers.

The president’s budget also proposes new initiatives to boost funding for postsecondary education and training and to make college more affordable and a better value for students. A proposed $8 billion Community College to Career Fund supports partnerships of community colleges and states with businesses to train 2 million workers in high-growth and in-demand industries. The initiative will include a focus on credentials, models that combine learning and earning, and career pathways. Given that they’ve been hit the hardest by the recession, lower-skilled and low-income individuals should be first in line in this initiative. And, to ensure the sustainability of these programs after the grants end, the Departments of Education and Labor should encourage colleges to build them into their regular “way of doing business” and design them to be eligible for Pell grants and other permanent funding sources.

The $1 billion Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion fund is aimed at helping states make systemic reforms to reduce college costs and increase the value students get from college programs. The budget promotes these goals at the institutional level with a $55 million First in the World competition for colleges and nonprofit organizations. As the administration is designing these programs, it should include lower-skilled adults and out-of-school youth as high priorities.

Lastly, the Administration proposes promising ideas around the Federal Work Study program. As a campus-based program, work study would be restructured to reward institutions that offer an affordable and high-value education to students. Another important part of the plan is a $150 million increase in funding for work study that specifically would be for jobs that align with students’ career goals. This is a good use of scarce dollars to support low-income students who often are already working to support themselves and their families.

Overall, there is a lot to like in the higher education and workforce sections of the Obama Administration’s FY 2013 budget. It is a wise vision that includes smart strategies and shows much promise in helping lower-skilled, low-income individuals and families achieve postsecondary and economic success.