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Research, financial aid at issue in federal budget

February 22, 2005 By Dennis Chaptman

The federal budget President Bush handed to Congress this month raises higher education concerns over both student financial aid and research funding levels.

The president’s $2.57 trillion budget for fiscal 2006 provides small increases for the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, but cuts funding for basic research in several major areas.

The news was decidedly mixed on the student financial aid front.

Although the Bush administration committed to raising the maximum Pell Grant award by $100 for each of the next five years and stabilizing the program for the long-term, it eliminates and recalls funding for several long-standing programs, the biggest of which is the low-interest Perkins Loan program.

The Bush plan funds the increased Pell Grants and covers a $4.3 billion shortfall that has plagued the program in recent years in part by eliminating Perkins Loans and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership program, which uses federal funds to generate state grant support for higher education.

It also requires schools over the next decade to return the federal contribution to the revolving fund used to make new Perkins Loans. At UW–Madison, the cumulative federal contribution built up since 1958 is $50 million.

The administration also has tagged for elimination programs aimed at low-income and first-generation students, including Upward Bound, Talent Search and the Gear Up programs — all of which are used to help state students.

Budget documents show that savings from cutting those programs would be used to pay for a new block grant program for states to “increase the achievement of high school students.”

Chancellor John D. Wiley says Bush’s budget proposal provides a challenge to higher education and to the campus, both in research funding and student financial aid.

“We certainly welcome the proposed increase in Pell Grants, but we regret the proposed elimination of other programs that have provided students and their families with the means to access a college education,” Wiley says. “For example, about 6,100 students at UW–Madison were able to obtain $17 million in Perkins Loans last year. We plan to work with Congress to share our concerns about financial aid and research funding as lawmakers begin working on the spending plan.”

Proposed cuts in federal funding for basic research also raised concerns in higher education.

While providing increases of 0.7 percent for NIH and 2.4 percent for NSF, the Bush plan cuts basic research in agriculture by 12 percent, reduces spending on defense research by 13 percent, pares energy research by 3.8 percent and trims NASA research by 1 percent. n

Tags: budget