To Foster Growth, Funding Cuts Must Be Restored

Former Kentucky Secretary State and current Director of the Harvard Institute of Politics
Your Voice Contributor

The recent Bipartisan Budget Act passed by Congress and signed by the president is a significant step for our federal government for long-term deficit reduction, and it unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that have harmed students, seniors and many Americans across the country.

It will also help to begin a path for critical investments that have proven to help our economy grow and strengthen our communities.

Despite these positives, the bill continues to leave education financing programs, research funding and other higher education initiatives on uncertain ground.

For research and development at universities, sequestration has cut federal funding by more than $1 billion. As a result, dozens of university presidents, including University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and Harvard President Drew Faust, have indicated that this approach by leaders in Washington is having a devastating effect.

A survey conducted in October revealed that seven out of 10 universities are encountering delays in research projects and that the same share of schools are obtaining fewer new research grants. Furthermore, undergraduate student research and new federal training grants have been cut by as much as 30 percent. Over a third of research projects have been canceled.

As a former Kentucky secretary of state and current director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, I can attest that investments in higher education have a positive effect on economic growth and contribute greatly to Americans’ overall prosperity. Higher levels of education attainment directly impact one’s employment opportunities and earnings over the course of their career.

Earlier this year a study released by the Pew Center on the States noted that, during the recession, college graduates 21 to 24 years old were far less likely to lose their jobs or have their pay cut than high-school graduates of the same age. Overall, unemployment rates for individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree are three times less than for those without a high-school diploma.

Sadly, students today are bearing an ever-increasing share of the costs of education. As the undergraduate population in the U.S. continues to increase rapidly, states now spend more than $2,000 less per student on average than they did five years ago. In Kentucky, fiscal support for higher education decreased by more than 10 percent in the last five years.

Despite these discouraging developments, obtaining a college degree still pays off in the long run. Graduates who paid an average of $102,000 in tuition in 2011 will earn an average of $570,000 more than high-school graduates over the course of their lifetimes, further highlighting the need to restore federal funds that support the nation’s students.

In Kentucky, the situation that many schools are facing is particularly alarming. The education gap between lower- and higher-income Kentuckians is widening as a result of five consecutive years of state funding cuts. This decline is especially onerous in places where established industries have deteriorated and local revenues have failed to make up the difference.

Strengthening education programs has helped to deter, and in some cases reverse, these trends by attracting new and added commercial investment. High-quality schools can impact local economies by influencing business expansion decisions, fostering a more knowledgeable workforce and drawing in more skilled individuals. Through education, Kentucky can be a more appealing place to live and do business.

Fortunately for the state’s upcoming budget, Gov. Steve Beshear has indicated that he will make it a priority to reinvest in P-16 education. However, considering the wide-ranging needs for students, these efforts at the state level must be complemented with appropriate support from our leaders in Washington.

To foster growth and development in Kentucky and across the country, our nation must continue to support schools and student programs at all levels. While we must get our federal budget under control, cutting an important investment like education funding is not a smart way to do so.

That’s why I am asking you to join me in asking our lawmakers to adequately restore education funding.