Federal budget cuts to harm research funding and financial aid

April 25, 2013

Sequestration measures passed earlier this year by Congress have led to a 5.1 percent funding cut from Federal Work Study programs, which will negatively affect financial aid and research spending and has worrying implications for student aid and academic research throughout the nation.

Many of the decreases in Federal education funding, such as the cuts to Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, will not affect Georgetown. In addition, grants designed for low-income students such as Pell grants will not go down during the first year of cuts. However, programs such as Federal Work-Study at Georgetown are estimated to diminish from $ 2,426,596 to $2,302,120, the equivalent of 41 awards.

Scott Fleming (SFS’ 72), Associate Vice President of Federal relations at Georgetown, indicated that although funding would be reduced, it remains uncertain how the cuts will be distributed. “The packaging of financial aid is a complex process, so that does not necessarily mean 41 or 42 [Georgetown] students won’t get work study who would otherwise,” Fleming said. The Office of Student Financial Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Fleming emphasized that University administration will try to preserve grants that assist low-income students. However, he worries for the future if larger issues surrounding the budget remain unaddressed, and that continuing incremental funding cuts would spell disaster for higher education.

Recipients of Title VI funding from the Department of Education, which allocates funds for coursework, fellowships, research, and outreach initiatives have especially felt the effects of the squeeze.

Dr. Osama Abi-Mershed, director of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, said following the 47 percent cut in Title VI funding in 2011, his department has learned to rely on fewer federal dollars. “For the last two years we have been preparing for the post-Title VI environment because we believe that it’s probably not going to go away completely, but it will never be what it used to be,” Abi-Mershed said.

Dr. Victor Cha, the Director of the Asian Studies Department, the only national resource center for East Asia in D.C., explained that in dealing with the budget cuts, the center placed priority on preserving student coursework. Consequently, if faced with cuts, faculty research funds and  outreach programs would be eliminated first.

“When we talk about the budget number that was cut under Title VI, it is so small compared to the big sequester … it’s literally pocket change in the broader scheme of things.” Cha said. “I think there are some people who would argue why you would want to cut something like this because this is really an investment in America’s ability to understand the world.”

Title VI funds are designed to create expertise in areas of the world with strategic implications for US foreign policy. Considering this, both Cha and Abi-Mershed see the cuts as a severe oversight.

“The idea is to keep the program competitive by bringing the best students, by retaining the best faculty,” Abi-Mershed said. “The initial impulse of Title VI was to create expertise in America about areas that were deemed to be strategic let’s say in this case the Arab world … it seems counterintuitive that this is when we should be spending less money on expertise in the Arab world rather than more.”

Abi-Mershed went on to ascribe the cuts to a major shift in philosophies toward higher education. “The problem is that in Congress there’s a new generation of leaders with a different understanding of higher education,” he said. “They think that this is too elitist, they are looking at education as something more horizontal so we can have … minorities doing global studies versus something that’s very vertical in that it covers one area, but covers it completely.”

Moving forward, Fleming emphasized that in addition to the efforts of the University administration to lobby Congress and initiate efforts such as the Campaign for Georgetown, which aims to increase the endowment by 1.5 billion dollars, to offset reductions in federal funding, students have a vital role to play in the process of securing funding.

“It’s always helpful that students let their own members of Congress know how they feel about  issues impacting them… Nothing is more effective in getting a member of Congress’ attention than hearing from people from their district.” Fleming said. “It’s up to the student to decide whether they care enough about this to pick up the phone and make a call.”


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