how to f’ up higher education…

…and the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.
This is truly outrageous news from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The Education Department has canceled its annual grant competition for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education because Congress has earmarked the bulk of the program’s $163.6-million budget for pork-barrel projects.
The program’s budget, set in the spending bill for the 2005 fiscal year that Congress approved last month, contains more than 400 pork-barrel projects ranging in size from $25,000 to $5-million and costing a total of $146.2-million. That leaves only $17.4-million to continue support for existing grants, which means that Fipse program managers will not be able to finance any of the 1,530 preliminary proposals that have already been peer-reviewed.

What kinds of things has FIPSE paid for in the past? Well, for one thing, The Classroom Electric: Dickinson, Whitman, and American Culture. But now, instead of paying a few thousand dollars for an educational resource (and perhaps a few dozen others every year), built by world-class scholars, that can be used the world over for free, Congress has decided to support projects like the $5 millon Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center at the University of South Carolina? (Is that a joke? What’s next? The Jayson Blair Center for Journalistic Integrity or maybe the Charles Manson Center for Peace Studies?)
Apparently Congress is getting its porky fingers on the FIPSE money because the tax cuts and the war in Iraq have drained the budget of a good bit of discretionary money.
See, and y’all thought I was just being sarcastic when I made fun of Bush during the debates.


“Congressional Earmarks Crowd Out Merit-Based Grants for Innovation in Higher Education”
By KELLY FIELD
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, December 15
http://chronicle.com/daily/2004/12/2004121501n.htm
Washington
The Education Department has canceled its annual grant competition for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education because Congress has earmarked the bulk of the program’s $163.6-million budget for pork-barrel projects.
The program’s budget, set in the spending bill for the 2005 fiscal year that Congress approved last month, contains more than 400 pork-barrel projects ranging in size from $25,000 to $5-million and costing a total of $146.2-million. That leaves only $17.4-million to continue support for existing grants, which means that Fipse program managers will not be able to finance any of the 1,530 preliminary proposals that have already been peer-reviewed.
Fipse supporters said they fear that the cancellation signals the demise of the merit-based program, which was established in 1972 to support innovation and reform in higher education. They say many of the large-scale capital projects included in the appropriations bill — like the $5-million Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center at the University of South Carolina at Columbia — would not have qualified under the competitive program, which typically provides campuses with seed money for projects that could foster educational change nationwide. Last year, Fipse awarded 50 grants averaging $194,000 for the first year and $446,000 over three years.
“We’re always looking to have ideas disseminated so other campuses can benefit,” said Augusta S. Kappner, the former chairman of Fipse’s board and the president of the Bank Street College of Education, in New York City. “That generally doesn’t happen with earmarks.” Fipse has financed some of the seminal studies on student assessment and supported groundbreaking research on learning communities and cluster courses.
But the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that sets Fipse’s budget defended the earmarks, arguing that members of Congress are more in tune with the needs of colleges and universities in their districts than the fund’s program managers. The chairman, Rep. Ralph Regula, Republican of Ohio, said lawmakers vet all potential earmarks using a series of eight questions to ensure that they meet program goals and requirements.
“Fipse doesn’t have all the knowledge in the world,” Mr. Regula said. “The bureaucracy in Washington doesn’t always have the last word on what is valuable to society.”
Since 1998, the number of earmarks in the Fipse budget has grown exponentially, from two in the 1998 fiscal year to 16 in 1999, 51 in 2000, 136 in 2001, 272 in 2002, 306 in 2003, 328 in 2004, and 419 in the current fiscal year. Earmarks now represent 89 percent of the program’s budget, an increase of 71 percent over 1998.
As a result of this shift, more universities are pursuing pork than in the past, said Clara M. Lovett, president of the American Association for Higher Education. “In past decades, they went after large grants through the competitive process,” she said. “Now, the pork-barrel approach seems to be more productive.”
The first hint that the competitive program was in jeopardy came in 1999, when Congress directed Fipse to give grants in 14 subjects and suggested recipients for most of them. The Education Department initially announced that it would cancel its annual competition (The Chronicle, January 22, 1999), but then it decided instead to conduct a new competition centered on the Congressionally mandated categories. In the end, external reviewers bypassed four of the categories and all but one of the 11 colleges that federal lawmakers named.
This time, though, the Education Department does not have that flexibility. That’s because the spending bill for the 1999 fiscal year “encouraged” and “urged” Fipse to award specific grants, it did not order the program to do so, as the current appropriations bill does. However, Congress could choose to add more money to Fipse’s budget.
While Fipse is not the only federal program that has become pork-heavy, it has been particularly vulnerable to earmarking because it is so small, said Debra Humphreys, vice president for communications and public affairs for the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “It is easy for lawmakers to not pay attention, or to think they’re not having much of an impact,” she said.
But some higher-education lobbyists say the real culprit isn’t the earmarks, but the tax cuts and the war in Iraq, which are squeezing domestic discretionary spending across the board.
“Everybody loves a line item when it’s for your own project,” said Christie A. Dawson, director of federal relations for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “But the problem really is that education in general is not receiving nearly enough money. These are the cracks that are beginning to show.”
While the cancellation applies only to the current fiscal year, some Fipse supporters fear it could discourage colleges from applying for grants through the program in the future. Richard Harpel, director of federal relations at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, urged institutions not to abandon the competitive process.
Earmarking is “so based on connections,” he said. “There are 3,500 regionally granted accredited institutions and they aren’t all best friends of the chairman of the committee.”

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