The 2016 Budget: Improving Opportunity and Affordability in Higher Education


Over the past six years, thanks to the hard work and determination of our country’s workers and businesses, our economy is recovering and continues to grow. The steps that President Obama has taken to promote middle-class economics are working—but there’s more progress to be made. In this year’s State of the Union address, the President made it clear that education—including a strong focus on improving postsecondary access, affordability, and student outcomes—remains central to his plan for strengthening and expanding the middle class and securing our country’s economic and civic prosperity for generations to come.

Today, more than ever, every American needs the knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy. A postsecondary credential has become a prerequisite for success, and every American should be able to secure a quality education without taking on heavy student loan debt.

The total aid available to postsecondary students has grown dramatically during the Obama administration, helping to ensure that more students are graduating from college than ever before. However, fewer than one in 10 students from low-income families complete college. We need to close the opportunity gap so that all students—regardless of background or circumstance—can succeed in college, careers, and life.

The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for education will continue to strengthen the building blocks of success in higher education through initiatives and reforms that will increase aid to students and improve the effectiveness of programs.

For example, the Obama administration is continuing to focus on protecting the value of the Pell Grant; simplifying financial aid forms so more students can take advantage of aid; streamlining income-based repayment plans, and partnering with businesses to create more on-the-job training and apprenticeship opportunities.

The budget also includes an exciting new proposal, called America’s College Promise, to make two years of college free and universal, just as high school is today. Under this initiative, students would be able to secure an associate’s degree or certificate, earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree, and gain skills needed in the workforce at no cost.

This is a concept we’ve tried before in America, with great success. In the 20th century, the decision to make high school free and universal drove decades of economic growth and prosperity. It equipped us to lead on the world stage. But, as the President has said, other nations caught on, and they caught up. Now it’s time to make two, free years of college the norm.

The fiscal year 2016 budget is designed to take bold steps to make college affordable and to modernize and improve federal student aid. Learn more about how higher education fits in the budget below.

Key elements in the President’s budget request:

  • Provides $1.36 billion in 2016 for America’s College Promise, a $60.3 billion investment over 10 years, which will create a new partnership with states to help them eliminate tuition and fees in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. The proposal asks everyone to do their part: 1) states must invest more in public higher education and training; 2) community colleges must strengthen their programs and improve student outcomes; and 3) students must take responsibility for their education, attend at least half-time, and earn good grades, to stay on track to graduate.
  • Fully funds Pell Grants and ties the maximum award to inflation beyond 2017. This ensures that Pell Grants maintain their value for students and families in the years to come.
  • Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Obama administration has taken key steps toward simplifying the FAFSA, but it’s still too complex and discouraging for too many students. An estimated 2 million students who would have qualified for a Pell Grant failed to complete the application. The President’s 2016 budget would eliminate the most burdensome and difficult-to-verify questions. By removing data elements pertaining to assets and additional types of income and by relying primarily on information readily available in federal tax returns, this simplification would make it easier for students and families to access federal student aid and afford a postsecondary education.
  • The request makes income-driven student loan repayment simpler with a better-targeted plan that simplifies borrowers’ experience and helps them better manage their debt.
  • Provides $860 million for the Federal TRIO programs, a $20 million increase, to enable the Department to maintain funding for approximately 2,800 TRIO projects that serve middle school, high school, and college students and adults. TRIO includes programs designed to help low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities successfully attain higher education. The budget also will support a new TRIO initiative designed to give existing grantees the opportunity to compete for increased funding to implement, evaluate, and scale additional, evidence-based college access and success strategies.
  • Provides $200 million for the First in the World program, a $140 million increase from 2015. These competitive awards aim to improve postsecondary completion rates through innovative, promising, and evidence-based strategies. The administration plans to set aside up to 30 percent of the funds available for a competition to support the implementation of projects at Minority Serving Institutions.
  • Provides $200 million for a proposed American Technical Training Fund, to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs that use evidence-based practices, have strong employer partnerships, include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled so that they accommodate part-time work. These programs would help more high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills they need to work in growing fields with middle-class jobs that local employers are trying to fill: sectors like energy, information technology, and advanced manufacturing. This initiative would be jointly administered with the Department of Labor to ensure that the projects are well integrated into the workforce system.

We’ve come a long way since the President took office—and 2014 was a breakthrough year. Still, there’s more we must do to ensure that all Americans share in the benefits of our recovery. The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget will speed our progress toward achieving the nation’s North Star goal: for America to again have the world’s best-educated, most competitive workforce.

Learn more about the entire budget request for education.

Melissa Apostolides is a member of the Communications Development division in the Office of Communications and Outreach


  1. While I agree with this plan..who will it benefit exactly. My family consists of two parents and six children, both who work. My sister is now in college, on the Dean’s list, and cannot find enough financial aid to cover tuition. Now keep in mind I said tuition, and that does not include all the other fees including room and board. So now my sister has had to take out loans because there isn’t enough financial aid to go around. This is a student who has worked hard and earned high grades but then you have those who instantly qualify for a free education. That doesn’t sit right with me. I believe everyone should be afforded the same assistance if possible.

    • Scott your are 100% spot on, your sister has worked hard and should be provided the means to reach her full potential… I hope she gets all of the support needed.

  2. in all of obama’s budgets he has added FREE education for illlegal immigrants. 1st they all get the discount which he promised to americans while campaigning that they are not getting while the lazy, illegal bottomfeeders are and 2nd all budgets state that there is no requirement to repay for their education. that is unfair and treasonous. we must demand no free education for illegal immigrants and they must all speak english. having to deal with illegals that don’t speak english is unfair to our students financially and takes time away from american students. IT MUST STOP NOW.


  4. This is a great plan of President Obama. The student can get a higher education within his/her budget. I really appreciate this. I like this article. Hope the plan will be successful.

    President Obama says “other nations caught on, and they caught up. Now it’s time to make two, free years of college the norm”. I like this sentence even more.

  5. It is good intiative taken by Obama in the education sector. Alloting budget for the development of higher education is appreciable. It will help students to continue their higher education.


  6. Please assist students and I whom are pursuing an Doctoral Degree. The Grant Financial Funding for this Degree is small. For example like the Pell Grant. I was grateful for the funding when I recieved it.


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