Federal spending bill “good news for Yale”

For researchers at Yale, the sequester may soon be over.

In a move that bears major ramifications for Yale and colleges across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill Wednesday afternoon. For universities, the largest implications of the measure lie in increased funding for research grants and federal assistance to college students. Passed with broad bipartisan support, the bill — widely expected to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama in the coming days — effectively puts an end to the federal sequester, which since January 2013 had slashed research funding, upon which Yale and other universities heavily rely.

Still, the proposed spending levels for many organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, that provide federal research grants to Yale remain below pre-sequester levels.

“I am pleased and thankful that Congress has recognized the need to turn around the sequester cuts in research funding, which has the potential to be good news for Yale,” University President Peter Salovey said. “But although the spending bill suggests that research funding is a priority, it only begins to make up that lost ground. In particular, the NIH remains behind its [2012 fiscal year] appropriation, which remains a cause for concern.”

While funding for the NIH as a whole will increase by $1 billion in the coming year as a result of the bill, the sequester had decreased the organization’s funding by $1.55 billion.

Like other research universities, Yale suffered from the sequester’s impact on federal grants. While the University received $562 million in federal grants — much of which came through NIH — in the 2012 fiscal year, that figure declined to $535 million in the 2013 fiscal year, largely because of the sequester.

The Association of American Universities, an organization of 62 leading research universities, echoed Salovey’s sentiment, saying in a statement that “even a partial sequester makes it impossible for Congress to take any serious steps to close the nation’s innovation deficit.”

Ann Speicher, the AAU associate vice president of public affairs, said increasing investment in higher education should be a priority for the federal government if the United States wishes to remain competitive on the international stage. She added that the actions of other nations to copy the U.S. model of higher education indicate the value of the system. Still, while Speicher acknowledged the importance of the bill’s steps to halt the impact of the sequester on universities, she said she was not thrilled with the federal research spending outlined by the document.

In addition to setting funding levels for research, the bill also increases the funding for federal Pell Grants, which are available to low-income college students and do not need to be repaid. For the 2014-’15 award year, students will be able to receive up to $5,730, compared to $5,645 for the current award year.

In the 2012-’13 academic year, a total of 687 Yale College students, 14 percent of Yale’s non-international undergraduate population, made use of the grants.

Although the bill passed Wednesday provides $22.8 billion for the grants — or a maximum of $4,860 for each grant — Speicher said it is widely anticipated that mandatory federal spending will result in a increase of $85 for the maximum grant.

The grants, for which the total federal funding has more than doubled under Obama, will also become available to 186,000 more students, bringing the total number of possible Pell Grant recipients to 9,311,000 nationwide for the 2014-’15 award year. The new legislation also requires the Education Department to measure the enrollment and graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients.

In addition to describing the higher potential total for each grant — which will help the grants keep pace with the rising cost of higher education — as good news, Salovey described the increased reach of the grants as a positive signal for the higher education landscape.

The bill, introduced in the House on Monday evening, is 1,582 pages long.

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