Trump Should Stop Trolling the Pell Grant Program

President Donald Trump is eyeing a reallocation of unused money from the federal Pell Grant program for investment in the country’s space exploration ambitions.

The Washington Post reports on the White House’s plans to redistribute the funds, which officials say would not impact the nation’s current Pell recipients, or institutions largely benefiting from the funding like historically black colleges and universities.

Enrollment in the program has declined since 2011, leading to a surplus of nearly $9 billion, according to the budget office. The administration had originally proposed using $2 billion of that surplus to fund other spending. The new request brings that total to $3.9 billion, which OMB described as similar to its request in the 2018 budget. The administration proposed a similar cancellation of unobligated Pell grant money for 2019, but later backed off the idea.

It’s the second time the Trump Administration has announced plans to draw down from unspent money in the Pell Grant program, and it will be the second time the administration will likely have its proposal rejected by Congress and criticized in the public square.

There is no scenario where the public will cheer a reduction in available money for low-income students trying to go to college. While the administration may have other operational and political objectives which can split the lines on support, even among his base, this is not one of those areas.

The administration has drawn its fair share of criticism on its willingness to shrink support for scientific advancement, free speech issues, and accreditation reform in higher education. But support for HBCU funding and development has remained steady into the third year of the Trump presidency.

HBCUs survive financially, in large part, because of their students’ ability to receive Pell Grant funding. Why stoke concern around an issue that has bipartisan support, in virtually all areas of the country, and among all kinds of people without concern for race and income? And if there is an insistence on finding a way to redirect the funds, why not take the opportunity to create training and workforce development opportunities for college students and graduates — at HBCUs and everywhere else?

A budget and management issue shouldn’t be transformed into a political fire starter just for the sake of controversy, and that’s exactly what talk on Pell Grant reinvestment does.