Sequestration: Impacting Higher Education

At the beginning of 2013, due to the inaction of Congress, sequestration took effect.  As a result, colleges and universities may have to toll the bell for many of the critical programs that help poor Americans go to college and get jobs, as well as much of the grant-funded university research that saves lives, creates alternative energy sources, and fuels American innovation.

 

The 8.2 percent across-the-board federal budget cuts, which went into effect on January 2, may devastate the futures of too many students and families and damage the programs that support America’s economy and health.

 

“It will be devastating to our future,” said Mark F. Smith, NEA senior policy analyst. “In education alone, more than 75,000 jobs will be lost, and critical research funding and student aid programs will be slashed.” And it comes on top of record cuts in state funds to higher education in recent years, which have already forced colleges to limit enrollments and shutter programs, and left students staggering under unprecedented amounts of debt.

 

The January cuts, which total more than $1.2 trillion, may have “destructive impacts on the whole array of federal activities that promote and protect the middle class in this country,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who recently issued a report about the harmful effects of the cuts on two federal programs that help low-income, first-generation students make it to college. Those programs may lose $90 million, eliminating services to more than 100,000 students, according to Harkin’s report.

 

While federal Pell Grants for poor college students would be protected from cuts in 2013, other college affordability programs, like federal work-study and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, will be cut the same 8.2 percent.

 

Meanwhile, the ground is also shaking underneath university laboratories, where faculty, staff, and graduate students depend on federal grants from agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Sequestration means a cut of $2.4 billion in National Institutes of Health-funded research alone—or basically half the budget of the National Cancer Institute. (The total effect of sequestration on health research specifically would be $3.6 billion, according to ReseachAmerica.)

“Our institutions appear staid and inflexible, but in practice, they have produced the most important innovations of the past three centuries,” wrote Chad Hanson in a recent NEA Thought & Action article. “Albert Einstein enjoyed the benefit of tenure when he produced the theory of relativity. James Watson and Francis Crick used the non-profit facilities at Cambridge to discover the double helix, and a group of mostly tenured faculty from the U.S. completed the Human Genome Project.”

 

As time passes, the impact of sequestration will become more apparent.  The APA will be working with our state affiliate, the MEA, and our national affiliate, the NEA to mitigate the impact the cuts will have on our members, our students, and Michigan State University.