AP: Billions of stimulus dollars to colleges and students

Hat Tip to theseedplanter for pointing us to an Associated Press article that appears on Yahoo News regarding the billions of stimulus dollars that are slated to go towards education.  Click here to read Justin Pope’s entire article.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • The stimulus plan emerging in Washington could offer an unprecedented, multibillion-dollar boost in financial help for college students trying to pursue a degree while they ride out the recession.  It could also hand out billions to the states to kick-start idled campus construction projects and help prevent tuition increases at a time when families can least afford them.
  • But cuts of $40 billion for state and local governments in the Senate version were a big disappointment for college leaders. House-Senate negotiations will determine whether education aid to the states is relatively modest or massive — and how much gets directed to high-need institutions for building projects, versus elite universities that would benefit if the final package spends more of the money on scientific research.
  • Students are big winners. Both the House and Senate bills call for the largest-ever funding increase for Pell Grants, the government’s chief college aid program for low-income students.  …the package would also increase next year’s maximum award by up to $500, to $5,350, starting July 1. That’s the biggest increase in history and would cover three-quarters of the cost of the average public four-year college.
  • Meanwhile, colleges are hoping Congress will agree restarting idled building projects is an efficient short- and long-term investment. As they lose revenues from state support, endowments and tuition, hundreds of projects are on hold nationwide, from a library extension at Fresno State to new dorms at Washington University in St. Louis and a biology lab at Yale.  The California State University system alone has halted 130 projects, which it values at $850 million and says account for 13,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the system may have to cut 10,000 enrollment slots.
  • If the infrastructure spending survives, it would likely prioritize colleges with high minority enrollments, schools rebuilding from disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and energy-saving projects. It may also take steps to make sure community colleges get their fair share, and private colleges — such as Roosevelt — are hoping the final version will allocate some to their sector, too.  The money would be for academic facilities, and wouldn’t go — directly at least — to things like gyms, food courts or chapels.

What some call spending, I call investing.  One thing that we can all agree on is Americans are falling farther and farther behind countries like China and India when it comes to education.  Take a look at this Ed in ’08 article written last summer about the widening education gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world:

  • America’s failure to keep pace with the education gains of other industrialized countries is creating a serious education gap that will impact our economic prosperity, warned some of the nation’s preeminent economists who gathered today at a national policy forum convened by Strong American Schools’ ED in 08 Chairman Roy Romer and Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington.

  • This education gap is growing. As recently as 1998, the United States was tied for first among industrialized nations in the percentage of 25 – 34 year olds with at least a bachelor’s degree. By 2005, the United States had dropped to seventh place.

  • A new national poll released today reveals that Americans understand the powerful link between educational achievement and economic growth. Fully 86 percent of respondents think a country’s education system has a large impact on its overall economic prosperity. However, the poll also shows that Americans do not appreciate how far the United States has fallen behind the rest of the industrialized world.

What’s worse is that our elected officials obviously don’t appreciate how far we continue to lag behind.  How else would you explain the fact that one of the first places the Senate is looking to cut the stimulus bill is by slashing funds for education.  A quote from the Ed in ’08 fits well here. “It’s like we’re driving with a broken gas gauge and praying that the tank is still full.”

We’ve got to kick up the investment in education at all levels if we as a nation have any hopes of closing the education gap that exists between us and the rest of the world.  We have to invest in our future.

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