On The Chopping Block


By Derek Chartrand Wallace

Photo Credit: Loan Nguyen

President Trump has proposed a budget that if approved by Congress will slash $9.2 billion in funding from the Department of Education, according to the White House website. This would force millions of low-income students under the axe and reach all Peralta College campuses. The “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” document calls for cancellation of $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant system’s surplus—money that politicians on both sides hoped to channel into summer school programs.

Pell Grants are provided for students with financial need who have not earned their first bachelor’s degree. Unlike loans, they do not need to be paid back. Despite describing these grants as an efficient way to deliver need-based aid, Trump is hovering the executioner’s blade over this reserve while also threatening to cancel funding to undergraduates in the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program. FSEOG awards are given to highest-needs students demonstrating low “Expected Family Contribution” in the form of parents’ and/or students’ inability to provide for post-secondary education expenses.

Work-Study funds will also be reduced “significantly,” which the National Association for Financial Aid Administrators estimates will hurt more than 600,000 students with jobs germane to their studies.

Loan Nguyen, Berkeley City College Financial Aid Supervisor, told the BCC Voice in a recent interview, “Our department might have limited funding to use for hiring more hourly staff or less money to buy supplies and other office operating needs would be limited.”

Chancellor Jowel C. Laguerre says the district is preparing for these potential cuts, but he feels students should not let fears negatively affect their desire to receive a quality education. “The United States Congress has supported financial aid programs for many decades,” Laguerre told the BCC Voice. “The threat to reduce or eliminate funding has happened many times, so it is important that students be active in support of ongoing funding for education.” He believes that, “It is important that students be determined to complete their studies as quickly as they can.”

As far as alternatives to Pell Grants and FSEOG awards, Laguerre postulates that, “We will have to rely heavily on the Board of Governors’ Fee Waiver as well as whatever relief the California Legislature will see necessary. Students who participate in the Oakland Promise, the Alameda Promise, or the Berkeley Promise could get some limited relief from these funds.” He concludes that, “Nobody should be alarmed; it will work out at the end.”

Photo Credit: Loan Nguyen

Nguyen reiterated the Chancellor’s call for calm and for BCC students to maintain dedication to course completion. “I’m hopeful that Trump’s budget will not be approved by Congress, but if it is, we are here to help, support, and assist students in any way.” Nguyen highlighted a more immediate hazard to students who need help paying for college and related expenses. “I have been working here for many years and have seen too many students unnecessarily disqualify themselves from financial aid because they didn’t think they met the criteria, so I would suggest every student apply, regardless of their situation or any change in regulations because you don’t know if you qualify unless you apply.” She also reminds those attending and considering attending college that, “There are new changes in 2017/2018 coming up for FAFSA where the student can apply earlier than January. Now you can start as early as October.”

Nguyen also stresses the availability of student-workers who are on campus daily, Monday through Friday. So, if you don’t have a background in computers or know how to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), her staff can help with those questions. “Please come by and visit us,” she beams. “We’re happy to see you!”


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