The University Record, October 8, 1996

Higher education funding gets a boost from Washington

President Clinton signed into law last week a 16-pound, 3,000 page spending bill that includes a $3.5 billion increase over last year's funding levels for education programs.

The University's Office of Financial Aid estimates that U-M students will receive a $2.4 million increase in grant and work study funding next year. The Omnibus Bill raises the maximum Pell Grant to its highest level ever, from $2,470 to $2,700, and increases Work Study funding by more than 30 percent. In addition, Javits Fellowship awards, which have faced elimination in the past, will continue to be made under another authority.

"I am pleased with the support in the Omnibus Bill for higher education programs," Interim President Homer A. Neal says. "This bill provides funding for student financial aid beyond what we anticipated and suggests that we are making progress in our struggle to convey to Congress the message that support for our colleges and universities, and the students they serve, must be a national priority.

"However, we can't rest," he continues. "We need to keep reiterating this important message."

Despite efforts by some members of Congress to eliminate or place a cap on the number of schools participating in the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (also known as Direct Lending), the program will be funded at the level requested by President Clinton and will have no cap on participation.

Clinton has been a vocal supporter of Direct Lending, of which the U-M is a participant, as an alternative to the government guranteed Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). Under Direct Lending, federal education loans are made directly to students through the university rather than the many lenders and agencies participating in FFELP.

Following two years of vocal opposition in Congress to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, both programs received no cuts in funding levels for 1997. International Education received an increase.

The bill also contained funding for a number of agencies and programs that support research at the U-M, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense.

NIH continued to enjoy strong support by political leaders from both parties, receiving a 6.9 percent overall increase. Each of the Institutes, Centers and Divisions saw their funding increase over last year.

One area of concern for the University, however, is in the Defense Department portion of the legislation where Basic Research (6.1) accounts---which provide a portion of federal support for the engineering disciplines---did not fare as well. Congress has directed the Department to take additional reductions from the Research, Testing and Development portion of its budget. How those reductions are made and their effect on university research will not be known for several months.

A number of agencies that support research were funded through separate legislation earlier this fall. As with the bill passed last week, there is a mix of results regarding research funding. For example, NASA and the National Science Foundation's research programs received a good increase, but a number of Department of Energy programs received significantly less than last year.

"We are extremely pleased with the results of this year's appropriation process which has resulted in a significant increase for student financial aid," Provost J. Bernard Machen says. "The news about NIH and some of the other research agencies is also very good."

"The final analysis is under way and we should have a clearer picture of the results within the next week or two," acting Vice President for Research Frederick C. Neidhardt says. "Overall, the research funding picture looks brighter than it did when this whole process began earlier this year. However, there are some areas that pose concern. More generally, we must continue to pay close attention to what our political leaders in Washington are contemplating over the next few years regarding federal support for university-based research."

U-M staff members will continue to consider the ramifications of the Omnibus Bill, and the University Record will include a report in later issue.