Higher education to receive funding from stimulus plan

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the $787-billion economic stimulus bill into law today. The bill will give billions to higher education.

In his Internet address last week, Obama cautioned that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is not the end of the government’s steps toward turning the economy around — it is only the beginning.

“It will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, ignite spending by business and consumers alike, and lay a new foundation for our lasting economic growth and prosperity,” Obama said.

The final package cut $6 billion that the House wanted to spend on building projects on university campuses. However, there is a possibility that part of the $53.6-billion state stabilization fund — approximately $39.5 billion of which is set aside for education —could be used toward modernizing higher education infrastructures.

College students will see some financial aid from the final stimulus plan.

“The stimulus package as currently drafted includes funding to increase student financial aid, including $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500,” said James Hyatt, senior vice president for business and finance at USF.

The Pell Grant program, which helps students with significant financial need attend college, will increase to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.

Hyatt said the aid will help approximately seven million students pursue their post- secondary educations.

College students or their parents will be eligible for a $2,500 tuition tax credit to pay for tuition and related expenses in 2009 and 2010. The tax credit is 40 percent refundable, and will allow those who do not make enough money to pay income tax to receive up to $1,000 in tuition help.

Also, approximately $15 billion has been allotted for scientific research. Much of this research funding will go to universities. This funding includes $10.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $1.5 billion of which has been set aside for university research facilities.

Hyatt said that actual fiscal relief from the stimulus efforts of Obama’s plan may not take affect for several months.

“The president signing the bill represents only the beginning of the process,” he said. “At this point, funding will probably be allocated to the state of Florida and specific allocations will be made based on individual state programs.”

Michael Loewy, associate professor of economics at USF, said he warns college students not to expect great economic improvement in the near future.

“Realistically, this (recession) has been going on already for 15 months. The bottom won’t come until sometime later this year — if we’re lucky,” Loewy said.

He said that as for employment, it will take time to get back to where the economy was before the nationwide layoffs.

Because of this, Loewy said he predicts that USF, as well as other universities, may see an increase in enrollment, especially at the graduate level. By choosing to stay in school rather than enter the job market, students will be improving their marketability when the economy does turn around, Loewy said.

In total, approximately $32 billion of the stimulus plan will be spent on higher education.