Budget reprieve is welcome news

In the federal government's recently enacted fiscal 1997 budget, no major sources of research funding were cut as had been expected. In fact, most sources got increases, along with huge increases for student financial aid. That was good news for higher education in general, but especially for Emory, which is heavily dependent on federal funding for research and student financial aid.

"Despite earlier indications to the contrary, higher education ended up having an outstanding year," said Steven Moye, associate vice president for governmental and community affairs. Budget proposals from both President Clinton and Congress had called for cuts of 19.1 percent and 22.8 percent, respectively, in nondefense research and development dollars by the year 2002. Such cuts could have put a strain on universities for alternative sources of funding. "We saw a reprieve this year," added Moye, who warned "that may not be the case next year."

Election year politics played a role in this year's reprieve with both Republicans and Democrats eager to adjourn and get home to campaign. Republicans, still nursing wounds from the negative publicity received during last year's budget battle and government shutdowns, were also eager to avoid a similar situation during an election year. In an effort to expedite the budget process, the remaining six of the 13 regular appropriations bills not yet passed were bundled into a single omnibus bill that was negotiated with the White House before it was passed by Congress Sept. 30 and sent to the president, who signed the bill.

Every major funding agency except the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of the Interior will receive increases in the 1997 budget. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will get a 6.9 percent increase to $12.7 billion.

Of the $146 million Emory received in research funding last year, $98.1 million or 67 percent came from federal sources. A major portion of those federal funds--$78 million--was from NIH. The medical school alone received $55 million from NIH; the School of Public Health, $5.6 million; and Yerkes Primate Center, $11.3 million.

"NIH funding is critical to Emory in many areas," said Moye. "Without it, Emory would be hard pressed to replace these amounts."

The National Science Foundation, the other major federal source of funding at Emory, will get an overall appropriation of $3.27 billion, $50 million, or about 1.6 percent more than last year. The agency's core Research and Related Activities accounts will be increased 5.1 percent to $2.4 billion. While these figures are not as outstanding as those for NIH, Moye said that the situation could have been worse. Emory received $4.32 million in grants from NSF last year and $5.26 the previous year.

Another area where federal appropriations play a significant role at Emory is financial aid. Of this year's $135 million budget, $55 million is from federal programs. Financial aid received tremendous increases in the federal budget this year, for which Moye said, "We couldn't be more pleased, especially in view of the reductions expected." Republicans had slated cuts for financial aid, especially Perkins loans and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants. Instead, the Perkins Loan program, which allows colleges and universities to make special low-interest loans to needy students, will get an increase of $64.7 million (57 percent). The Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants were funded at the same level as last year, $583.4 million. Pell Grant funding will be increased by 20.5 percent over fiscal 1996 levels, and the maximum Pell Grant award will increase by $230 to a maximum of $2,700. Work Study funding will increase by 34.6 percent from last year to $830 million. The State Student Incentive Grant program, which both the president and Congress initially wanted to eliminate, received an $18.6 million (59.2 percent) increase.

"These figures represent a major victory," noted Moye. He attributes these successes to the huge grassroots lobbying efforts from students to maintain funding for the programs.

Although graduate education will be cut by about 10 percent to $30 million, funds will be available for the popular Javits and Harris fellowships.

While higher education faired extremely well in this year's federal budget, Moye warns that the battle to maintain funding levels for higher education will be more difficult next year for many reasons. Several of higher education's key supporters are retiring from Congress. "Success also has its costs," explained Moye. "When Congress begins to work on next year's budget, some members will undoubtedly point out that education received huge increases this year and want to make cuts because of that."

Medical education also could get hit by cuts in the indirect costs associated with Medicare and Medicaid funding. These funds, which play a significant role in graduate medical education for residents, weren't touched this year, but with the Medicare trust fund facing bankruptcy they are sure to come up next year. Cuts in these areas could have a major impact on the medical school, noted Moye.

But perhaps the single most volatile issue related to next year's budget will center around the rising cost of education as Congress takes up reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, said Moye. House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Howard McKeon (R-Pa.) has already said his panel plans to look closely at "runaway" college costs, and House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio) has also sopken out against college costs.

Moye expects all of these issues, as well as this week's election results, to play major roles in federal funding for higher education next year.

--Bob Keaton

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