Budgeting for the Future: Obama’s Spending Proposals for Education and Research

The budget that President Obama released on Monday makes cuts ($22 million each) in funding for the arts and humanities while increasing the budget for university research in areas such as renewable energy, wireless communications, and computer technology. While funding including Pell Grants to assist students from lower-income backgrounds is protected, the budget for career and technical education programs faces losing about 20% of its budget.  These budget proposals stand in stark contrast to the Republican-controlled House’s calls for cuts in spending in education and research.


Cut to College Aid In Order To Preserve Pell Grants

Obama’s budget seels to keep the maximum Pell Grant at a total of $5550. To do so, cuts are proposed for, says the Chronicle of Higher Education, ‘in-school interest subsidy on loans to graduate students.’ Programs such as Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work-Study would be funded at the same level but a policy that allows students to receive two Pell Grants in a single year will end.

Currently, demand for Pell Grants is ‘skyrocketing,’ with 9.6. million students —up from 6 million in 2008—expected to receive a grant this year:


The economic downturn, coupled with recent increases in the maximum award, has severely strained the program, creating a shortfall that could reach $20-billion next year.

Congress created “year-round” Pell Grants in the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to help students earn degrees more quickly. The program went into effect only a year and a half ago.

On Monday, Obama said that the year-round Pell Grants had ‘”failed to demonstrate a meaningful impact on students’ academic progress.” Enrollment in summer courses for students with the grants only increased by 1 percent, according to the Education Department, plus the year-round grants cost 10 times more than the administration had anticipated.

Funding for Pell Grants is by no means assured, though. Republicans have introduced an appropriations bill that would reduce Pell Grants by $845 and get rid of 56 education programs, including Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants as well as several programs benefiting minority-serving institutions. 

Other changes to funding for educational programs noted in Obama’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012 include:  

  • extending the “Race to the Top” program from schools to colleges, with $50-million allocated to ‘encourage states to make systemic changes to their higher-education systems’
  • creating a $125-million grant competition within the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, to test innovations in college access and completion
  • creating a $185-million competitive program for the states to replace the Teach Grant program. 


Currently the Teach Grant program provides grants worth up to $4,000 to students who plan to work in a ‘high-need field’ after graduation; the proposed new program will provide winning states funds to award $10,000 scholarships to future teachers who attend “the most effective programs in the state.”


University Research Would Receive More Funds

Funding for university research will increased by 6.5% above FY 2010 levels, says the Chronicle of Higher Education:


Under the president’s proposal, the NIH [National Institutes of Health] would get $31.8-billion in fiscal 2012, up 2.4 percent from its fiscal-2010 levels. The NSF [National Science Foundation] would receive $7.8-billion, up 13 percent from 2010, while the Energy Department’s Office of Science would take in $5.4-billion, a 10.7-percent increase from 2010. The average increase for federal research expenditures is well above the nation’s 2.7-percent rate of inflation over the past two years……

The president’s proposal places emphasis on research in areas that include renewable energy, wireless communications, and computer technology. Scientists pursuing military applications also would benefit, with Mr. Obama seeking $2.1-billion in the Pentagon’s basic-research budget, up 14.5 percent from fiscal 2010. The few areas facing cuts in their research budgets under Mr. Obama’s proposal include the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs.


The Obama administration faces stiff opposition to fund these increases. The House Appropriations Committee’s spending p lan for FY 2011 calls for cutting funds specifically to the NIH and the NSF:

The Republican proposal, expected to face votes this week in the House, would cut $60-billion governmentwide from fiscal-2010 levels. That proposed one-year cut includes $1.63-billion, or nearly 5.4 percent, from the National Institutes of Health, and $359.5-million, or 5.2 percent, from the National Science Foundation, according to the Association of American Universities.

The House committee’s proposed numbers would cut even deeper, and thus fall even farther from Mr. Obama’s goals, if applied now, with the 2011 fiscal year already more than one-third complete. 


One difficulty in countering calls to cut university research is that it’s not always very easy to explain ‘connection between complicated research projects and the wide benefits they may provide to society.’ As James D. Savage, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia says, it is even harder to do so when ‘”when lawmakers such as Mr. [Eric I.] Cantor [the new majority leader in the House of Representatives and a Republican from Virgnia] compound the confusion by ridiculing “funny-sounding science projects.”‘

Indeed, data from the NSF reveals that funding for research and development on university campuses has fallen below inflation since the 2005 fiscal year, except for funds provided from the 2009 stimulus bill, which provided a one-time sum of $21.5-billion for research.

Obama has defended the increases in educational and research funding by arguing that we need to spend on these areas now to keep the US competitive in technology, innovation, and education with the rest of the world. With US students already lagging behind those in other nations including China, can we really afford not to put more resources in educating today’s students and funding research?

Previous Care2 coverage

President Obama: It’s Time for “Adult Conversation”

GOP Proposes Severe Cuts to Education—and Special Education—Budgets

Obama’s Proposed Budget ‘Cuts What We Can’t afford to Pay For What We Cannot Do Without’

Flickr by uhuru1701.


William C
William C25 days ago


W. C
W. C26 days ago

Thank you for caring.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

So gratifying to have a president look long-range, to the future, instead of trying to go back to the good old days (I talking to you, repubs!)

dve d.
aa b7 years ago

thank for the info

Carole K.
Carole K7 years ago

Who was it that said: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!"? Whoever it was, they were correct. An educated populace is a national treasure. Let's not cut education funding too much; I like my American standard of living. Or at least I did before the GOP & Tea Party right-wingers got a hold of it.

Rachael Shiel
Rachael Shiel7 years ago

This was very insightful, thank you.

Patty L.
Patty L7 years ago

I do not begrudge anyone education. I do not understand why it is so difficult for our people (and believe me, I believe one day, we will be of one people) to gain access to financial aide to better ourselves. I honestly believe we could and should be a compassionate country once again ((if we ever were) if our people would get their heads out of the repubs buts and start thinking for themselves. Are we becoming a nation of selfish individuals? That is a scary thought!

Also, I do not believe Reagan was so great ( he started deregulation - S&Ls - removed the solar panels from the WH, negotiated with terrorist to win the election over Jimmy Carter- the so called great communicator was not a very honest man).

Don't get me started on gw bush, the biggest moron of all. What I don't get is how bush made sure his "base" was "taken care of" but the Democrats appear to cater to the right-wing nuts rather than the base that elected them: OBAMA, what is the deal????

wizzy wizard
wiz wi7 years ago


David N.
David N7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Ana Marija R.
ANA MARIJA R7 years ago

Thank you