Bush budget plan affects grants to Elis

President George W. Bush’s proposed 2008 budget may put a crimp into Yale’s budget planning, administrators said this week.

The proposed $2.9 trillion federal budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes provisions affecting financial aid and research funding. Yale administrators said the changes should not affect students but will cost the University, though the exact impact on Yale’s budget will not be known until Congress passes a final version of the budget.

The increase in funding for certain financial aid grants has support among the higher education community, but it comes at the expense of cuts to other federal financial aid programs. Bush’s plan would also increase funding for research in the physical sciences while decreasing funding for biomedical research, continuing a trend in falling grant awards that administrators said they find troubling.

Increases in federal Pell grants and Stafford loan limits included in the proposed Department of Education budget would bring the maximum grant to $4,600 up from $4,050 and raise subsidized loan limits for juniors and seniors from $5,500 to $7,500. But Caesar Storlazzi, Yale’s director of financial aid, said in most cases, the changes should have no effect on Yale students. Since the University guarantees it will meet a student’s entire financial aid need, any increase in Pell grants would mean a smaller Yale scholarship, Storlazzi said. Yale students are expected to contribute $4,400 a year to their education — which would not change with additional Pell grant funding — so most students would not need to take out Stafford loans as high as $7,500.

But the plans also call for eliminating Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant funding, which currently goes to the University, not individual students. Cutting the program would add $1.5 million a year to Yale’s financial aid budget, Storlazzi said, though some of the difference could be made up through increased Pell grants.

“All of these changes intersect in somewhat complex ways but I do believe Yale will do everything it can do to minimize any negative effect on students,” Storlazzi said.

The proposed budget would decrease funding for the National Institutes of Health — the largest sources of grants in the biomedical sciences. Though the Bush Administration said the 2008 request marks an increase over expected 2007 funds, the final 2007 NIH budget to be passed by Congress increases funding enough that Bush’s proposal would actually represent a decrease of $511 million.

“That is very scary,” Deputy Provost Charles Long said. “Quite apart from how important it is for society, [NIH] is Yale’s biggest federal funding source. That will have a very significant indirect effect, especially in the medical school.”

Research funding at the National Science Foundation and other agencies that fund physical sciences research goes up more than $300 million in the proposed budget, which administrators praised. But even though University faculty members increasingly seek NSF funding, the NIH income is more important to Yale since they fund a much larger portion of Yale’s research, Long said.

Even departments that might be expected to gain the most from the increase in physical science funding may have greater difficulty in getting needed research grants. Paul Fleury, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said engineering professors are increasingly working on biomedical research projects and seeking NIH instead of NSF funding. He said decreases in grants have the largest impact on young faculty seeking their first federal funding, and Yale’s engineering programs have a particularly large concentration of young faculty.

The changes may put further pressure on an already-stretched University budget, but planners were not expecting huge increases in grant funding next year. A Dec. 21 letter from Provost Andrew Hamilton detailing budget plans listed grants and contracts income as expected to rise three percent in the 2008 fiscal year, among the lowest increases for any income category.

How quickly any changes may take place remains unclear. Even if Congress holds to its planned schedule, the budget’s individual appropriations will not be decided until late September. But a budget for the ongoing 2007 fiscal year still has not been approved, and it could easily take as long to pass a 2008 budget. When a budget will pass through Congress and be signed by the president can be difficult to predict, Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities, said.

“This time last year I would have said it would be by Election Day, or at least by the end of the calendar year,” he said. “But they didn’t even do that.”

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