FY11 budget would boost research funding, student aid

President Obama's 2011 budget proposal increases student aid by 60 percent since 2008.
President Obama's 2011 budget proposal increases student aid by 60 percent over 2008 figures.

Research university officials praised President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal, which includes more funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Pell Grant program used by nearly 9 million college students this year.

The higher-education funding increases were tempered with a proposal that could shrink campus coffers: High-income taxpayers would be able to deduct less from charitable donations to colleges and universities if the budget is approved by Congress.

The proposed federal budget increases funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by 8 percent, or $7.4 billion for fiscal year 2011. The funding increase would grow NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship program and the Faculty Career Development program, according to an NSF announcement. Both initiatives train college students and new educators in scientific research.

The 3.2-percent budget increase for NIH marks the largest budget increase for biomedical research since 2002, said Robert Berdahl, president of the American Association of Universities.

“This budget underscores the president’s strong conviction that the nation’s investments in the people and ideas that lead to discovery and innovation are critical to short-term economic recovery and, especially, to long-term economic prosperity,” Berdahl said.

“Congressional leaders have displayed a similar commitment, and it is our hope that Congress will sustain the momentum for funding of key research and financial aid programs.”

The larger research budget, he said, would also allow for more advanced projects at the U.S. Department of Energy.

“These investments are essential to our ability to maintain our global leadership in innovation and build an economy that addresses our national challenges and creates the high-paying jobs that are the foundations of economic prosperity,” Berdahl said.

The Obama administration’s proposed budget would make it mandatory for the government to fund the Pell Grant program, and the president’s proposal would raise the cap on maximum Pell grants from $5,500 to $5,710. The Pell Grant program would see a $17 billion increase under the administration’s plan; Obama boosted Pell grants by 13 percent in his fiscal 2010 budget.

The budget calls for linking Pell grant increases to the annual inflation rate. That would make the maximum Pell grant almost $7,000 in 10 years.

The 2011 budget would include $156 billion in student aid—a 60 percent increase over 2008 figures, according to the administration’s projections.

The federal focus on Pell grants during economic downturn has been noticed on college campuses.

Michigan State University saw a 27-percent increase in Pell grant recipients from 2008 to 2009, said Val Meyers, the university’s associate director of financial aid. About 8,900 Michigan State students received Pell grant aid in 2010, a jump from the 7,000 who received the assistance during the 2008-09 school year.

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