President Obama's proposed FY 2013 budget would encourage community college partnerships with employers, target student aid for colleges that restrain tuition prices, and increase overall spending on U.S. Education Department programs by 2.5% to nearly $70 billion. That would be the largest percentage increase for any domestic department in the president's proposed federal budget for FY 2013, which begins in October 2012.
It is a budget proposal overshadowed by lingering economic woes and paralyzing partisan debates over deficits, tax breaks for the rich, and future investments. Still, the president found room for five key higher education changes, as The Huffington Post summarized.
• Obama unveiled the Community College to Career Fund which would invest $8 billion over the next three years to fuel partnerships between community colleges and employers. Administered by the departments of Education and Labor, the initiative would aim to train 2 million workers for "middle-skill" positions in high-growth industries such as healthcare and advanced manufacturing. Georgetown University economists have noted that about one-third of workers with an associate degree earn higher wages than peers with a bachelor’s degree, and one-fourth of workers with a one-year certificate earn more than peers with a bachelor’s. The president's plan would exclude for-profit colleges from this type of funding, which Inside Higher Education noted, "almost guaranteed to draw protest from a sector that already feels persecuted by the Obama administration."
• As the president promised in his State of the Union address, the plan would change the formula to distribute so-called "campus-based aid"—Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Perkins Loans and Federal Work-Study funds—to reward institutions for enrolling and graduating relatively higher numbers of lower-income (Pell Grant-eligible) students, offering relatively lower net tuition prices and restraining tuition growth.
• A new $5 billion grant program would help schools attract, train and retain high-quality teachers. Governing magazine opined that "the reforms would include making colleges of education more selective, improving professional development programs, tying pay to performance and revamping tenure standards."
• Information Week reported that the White House proposed $140.8 billion for R&D. The proposed federal portfolio of basic and applied research is $64 billion, an increase of 3.3%, over what was spent last year—and the proposal for non-defense R&D is $64.9 billion, a 5% boost. The budget also provides $3 billion to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
For more details of the president's proposed budget for higher education, see The Chronicle of Higher Education.
In the rancorous times, Obama's proposals were met, of course, with both praise and criticism.
The criticism ranged from a reader comment to The Huffington Post: "Why is the federal government even involved in funding education? They have no constitutional mandate to regulate or fund education. They only education the federal government should be funding is for federal employee training, troops via the GI bill, and research projects done at universities. Part of the reason education costs have spiraled out of control is that universities became so dependent on outside funding."
To the wonkishly thoughtful: The University of New Hampshire's daily The New Hampshire editorialized, "On the surface, UNH would be at a disadvantage compared to other schools, since it receives such miniscule financial support from the state. New Hampshire already had the lowest per-capita spending on higher education before the state legislature cut the expenditure by 50% last year. A federal program that failed to take this fact into its algorithm would only further UNH's disadvantage and make it harder for the university to remain competitive."