Federal Budget Blahs

Higher education's hopefulness for new influx of funds fades as Congress cedes to President Bush's wishes, passing spending bill that pulls many programs below 2007 levels.
December 28, 2007

What seemed a promising budget year for most federal programs important to colleges ended in relative disappointment this month, as Democratic leaders in Congress blinked in a stare-down with President Bush. Wary of being tagged, in their first year of control since 1994, as unable to complete Congress's most fundamental task -- passing the appropriations bills necessary to finance government operations -- Democrats opted to cede to the president's demand to largely stick to the budgetary ceilings he had set in his 2008 budget last February.

That meant the final 2008 spending bill (H.R. 2764), which financed most federal programs for the fiscal year that began October 1, was stripped of billions in funds Democratic leaders had sought (in versions of the legislation passed by the House and Senate) to funnel to student aid, biomedical research and many other social programs that they argued had been starved in previous Congresses controlled by Republicans.

A handful of programs will end up faring well for 2008 because of the budget reconciliation legislation that Congress passed and President Bush signed this fall, which freed up billions of dollars in federal mandatory funds that aren't subject to Congressional review and appropriation each year. That legislation will channel hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funds to programs to support institutions that serve large numbers of minority students, for example, and create a new program to provide scholarships for would-be teachers.

In addition, the budget reconciliation measure provides funds to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $490 in 2008. But to the dismay of college officials, Congressional Democrats, knowing that they had already delivered a significant increase in the program through the back door of mandatory funds, opted to provide only enough in discretionary money to set the maximum grant at $4,241, which represents a decrease from the 2007 level of $4,310, the first such cut in 15 years.

While the budget reconciliation legislation spared the Pell program a real dollar decline in its federal support, many other student aid programs were not so fortunate in the 2008 appropriations measure that President Bush signed Wednesday. Congress warded off the elimination of several programs that President Bush had proposed killing, including the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Perkins Loan Programs. But because Congressional appropriators imposed a 1.7 percent across the board cut on many programs in the omnibus spending bill to try to meet the ceilings set by President Bush, programs such as SEOG, Tech Prep vocational funds and Byrd graduate scholarships all will see drops in their 2008 funds, as seen in the table below:

Funds for Education Department and Other Federal Programs Important to Colleges, 2007 and 2008:

Program 2007 Appropriation (000s) Final 2008 Budget (000s) Change From 2007 (000s)
Pell Grants (discretionary) $13,660,711 $14,215,000 $554,289
Pell Grants (mandatory) 0 $2,041,000 $2,041,000
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants $770,933 $757,465 -$13,468
Work Study $980,354 $980,492 $138
Perkins Loan cancellations $65,471 $64,327 -$1,144
Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships $64,987 $63,852 -$1,135
Academic Competitiveness/SMART Grants $850,000 $1,445,000 $595,000*
TEACH Grants n/a $58,000 $58,000
Institutional aid      
Strengthening Institutions $79,535 $78,146 -$1,389
Alaska Natives(1) $11,785 $11,579 -$206
Strengthening Historically Black
Colleges and Universities(1)
$238,095 $238,095 0
Strengthening Historically Black
Graduate Institutions
$57,915 $56,903 -$1,012
Minority science and engineering improvement $8,730 $8,577 -$153
Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions(1) $94,914 $93,256 -$1,658
American Indian Tribally
Controlled Colleges and Universities(1)
$23,570 $23,158 -$412
Tribally Controlled Postsecondary
Voc-Tech Institutions
$7,366 $7,546 $180
Howard U. $237,392 $233,245 -$4,147
Gallaudet U. $106,998 $113,384 $6,386
National Technical Institute for the Deaf $56,141 $59,696 $3,555
International education $105,751 $108,983 $3,232
Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education $21,989 $120,333 $98,344
Demonstration projects for students with disabilities $6,875 $6,755 -$120
Vocational and adult education    
Carl D. Perkins Act state grants $1,181,553 $1,160,911 -$20,642
Tech Prep $104,753 $102,923 -$1,830
Adult education $579,563 $567,468 -$12,095
Student assistance      
TRIO programs(2) $828,178 $828,178 0
Gear Up $303,423 $303,423 0
Child care aid $15,810 $15,534 -$276
America COMPETES undergraduate aid 0 $983 $983
College access challenge grants 0 $66,000 $66,000
Graduate education      
Byrd scholarships $40,590 $40,284 -$306
Javits fellowships $9,699 $9,530 -$169
Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need $30,067 $29,542 -$525
Thurgood Marshall opportunity program $2,946 $2,895 -$51
America COMPETES graduate 0 $983 $983
Other offices      
Research and statistics $93,149 $104,053 $10,904
Office for Civil Rights $91,205 $89,612 -$1,593
Inspector general $50,266 $50,849 $583
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS $124,562 $144,700 $20,200
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH $28,809,000 $28,942,000 $133,000
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION $5,916,000 $6,065,000 $149,000
Research $4,764,200 $4,821,000 $56,800
Education $698,000 $725,600 $27,600
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY OFFICE OF SCIENCE $3,797,000 $4,018,000 $221,000
*Includes $525 million rescission from 2008  
(1) The budget reconciliation legislation approved last fall provides additional funds for these specialized institutions: $30 million for tribally controlled colleges and universities; $15 million for Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian-serving institutions; $85 million for historically black colleges; $100 million for science and articulation programs at Hispanic serving institutions; $15 million for predominantly black institutions; and $5 million each for Asian American serving and Native American-serving nontribal colleges.
(2) The budget reconciliation legislation provided $57 million in additional funds for Upward Bound

Although academic research programs in general were spared the sort of real-dollar cuts that Congress made to some education programs, advocates for university research expressed deep concern about how the programs fared in the final appropriations legislation, in part because expectations for them had been high.

President Bush and Congress had both made a significant show of advocating for the physical sciences, as part of a widely embraced plan to double federal spending in those disciplines over a decade, through legislation known as the America COMPETES Act. But when push came to shove, they fell far short of keeping on pace with that goal. Yet lawmakers managed to fund about $7.4 billion in member-sponsored earmarks, or pork barrel spending.

"The America COMPETES Act has little meaning if it is not funded, and this bill does not fund it," said Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities. "We will work with Congress and the president in hopes that they begin to fulfill that commitment next year, because this year has been a severe disappointment. In exchange for an arbitrary cap on domestic spending and thousands of earmarks, the administration and Congress have sacrificed investments in research and education that would help assure our nation's long-term national and economic security."

The final 2008 budget also drew condemnation from supporters of the National Institutes of Health. They had been anticipating from the start that biomedical research would be shortchanged given the federal policy emphasis on the physical sciences, and in the end, the NIH, which in the fall seemed destined for a billion-dollar increase, wound up with an inflation-adjusted decline, for the fifth straight year.

Money aside, there was good news for supporters of public access to research. The budget bill contained a provision that requires NIH-funded researchers to to deposit electronic copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts into the National Library of Medicine's online archive, PubMed Central, and requires the NIH to make the research publicly available and searchable online within 12 months after publication in a journal.

"Facilitated access to new knowledge is key to the rapid advancement of science," Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and former director of the NIH, said in a prepared statement. "The tremendous benefits of broad, unfettered access to information are already clear from the Human Genome Project, which has made its DNA sequences immediately and freely available to all via the Internet. Providing widespread access, even with a one-year delay, to the full text of research articles supported by funds from all institutes at the NIH will increase those benefits dramatically."


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