SJTP Fellow and Environmental Studies doctoral student Tiffany Wise-West filed this report from a lobbying trip to Washington, DC with the “UC in DC” program. The statements made in this piece are her own opinions and not those of any UC-affiliated advocacy group.
In late May, 2013 a delegation from UCSC joined other UC campus delegations for UC in DC day, advocating to Congress for strong and sustained federal funding of graduate research and education. Over 26,000 graduate researchers are partially supported by the $3.1 billion in federal research funding annually, representing two-thirds of total research funding awarded to UCs each year. With over 7% of the nation’s PhDs being awarded from the UC system, UC leads the way in building the intellectual capital necessary to fill the 2.6 million jobs in California projected to require advanced degree by year 2020.
Graduate training, long a focal area of the Science and Justice Research Center, will be impacted by cuts to federal discretionary funding in the next fiscal year as a result of the sequestration mechanism put into law by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Additional discretionary cuts to research, education, and health programs will be accomplished in future years by decreasing the total funds available for annual appropriations. Without a change to or repeal of the sequestration law, the following impacts to graduate education will go into effect:
· Deep cuts through year 2021 to key agencies funding graduate research opportunities such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, USDA, NASA, Department of Defense, and others.
· Reductions in student aid support will occur as the number of Pell Grants awarded decrease through year 2021 and interest rates for new federal students loans could increase from 3.4 to 6.8% after July 2013.
Obviously failure to “build the brain trust” has the potential to stifle technological innovation and could be economically damaging for the State. Chancellor Blumenthal, in his Open Forum piece in the May 9, 2013 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, frames this issue in terms of UCSC’s cancer genome research and asks how we, as a society, cannot afford this research that is so clearly in the public’s interest. Thus, crucial social justice questions are also associated with the current funding situation. Societal human health impacts aside, the inability to maintain or increase funding to graduate programs and grant-making agencies will have dire impacts on prospective graduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds or communities with respect to affordability and accessibility of healthcare.
Moreover, as Senator Harkin’s (D-Iowa) Education Policy Advisor pointed out, the Senator believes that education should never be treated as a discretionary expense but rather always speaks of it in terms of an investment in a self-perpetuating source of innovation, an economic driver and equalizer. As long as Congress thinks of educational funding as an “expense” vs. an “investment” and continues to make choices that prohibit pathways to advanced degrees, generations of Americans may accept the notion that advanced degrees are simply “out of reach” and be dissuaded from pursuing them.
So, what are our options? Outside of aggressive advocacy with Congress to improve the situation through legislative means, UC delegates informed Senator Feinstein (D-CA) that UC is working to enhance early and robust alumni contribution campaigns and foster public-private partnerships in research funding as a means to deal with continual uncertainty and reductions in funding. While these actions can make significant contributions, they do not begin to reach the order of magnitude required to offset the divestment of federal funding in graduate research and education. Congressional representatives from districts in which UCSC is located all explicitly support UC’s graduate research funding agenda. But with such a divided Congress, it is unlikely that legislative action will succeed in maintaining or increasing funding levels.
The next opportunity to weigh in on this issue is at the state level by contacting your legislator to support the increases proposed for UC in Governor Brown’s proposed, revised state budget that was released on May 14, 2013 and will be voted on by the legislature on June 14, 2013.