by Mary Ellen Flannery
If Congress doesn’t pass a budget deal by the end of the year, you can 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.
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The 8.2 percent across-the-board federal budget cuts, which will go into effect on January 2 if Congress doesn’t take quick action, would devastate the futures of too many students and families and damage the programs that support America’s economy and health. That’s why it’s so important to tell your Senator and Representative that they need to step up and take action.
“It would be devastating to our future,” said Mark F. Smith, NEA senior policy analyst. “In education alone, more than 75,000 jobs would be lost, and critical research funding and student aid programs would 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 impending January cuts, which would total more than $1.2 trillion, would 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 potential cuts [ed note: pdf link] on TRIO and GEAR UP, two federal programs that help low-income, first-generation students make it to college. Those programs could lose $90 million, eliminating services to more than 100,000 students, according to Harkin’s report.
These are mostly young Americans from poor families, where parents are making choices between, “food, oil, and medicine—they can’t afford all three,” said Danette Madore, an Upward Bound (TRIO) counselor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
Access to a proven successful pre-college program like Upward Bound, which provides year-round tutoring, college visits, SAT prep, personal guidance counseling, as well as intensive, residential summer programs, means helping these kids into careers in engineering and other fields, said Madore, whose budget already has been sliced thin. It also means growing America’s economy with new talent and tapped potential. “[These students] know they need this,” said Madore. “And they really, really want it.”
And those aren’t the only access programs facing the axe. 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, would be cut that same 8.2 percent. In New York alone, that would mean 6,500 students could lose work-study assistance and 7,000 could lose their opportunity grants.
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 would mean 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.)
Last year, at the University of Florida (UF) alone, faculty, staff, and student researchers received $306 million in research grants, according to a recently released report by the National Science Foundation. That includes a recent $63 million NIH grant to develop heart disease therapies using a patient’s own bone marrow, a $6 million NSF grant to boost productivity in the South’s timber industry, and nearly a million dollars from the Department of Energy to improve nuclear energy safety.
“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.”