As a high-profile congressional “super committee” nears final deliberations on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan, higher education advocates are launching mobilization efforts to protect programs promoting college access for low-income students and students of color.
This committee of six Democrats and six Republicans has until Wednesday to agree on additional cuts in government spending required over a 10-year period.
“They’re looking at everything,” says Jason Delisle, director of the Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation. “It’s defense versus education versus transportation,” he told Diverse. “There’s no area of the budget that’s been left unturned.”
Meanwhile, representatives of historically Black colleges and universities have sent out alerts urging its members and supporters to contact members of Congress opposing cutbacks, which they said could total $85 million for HBCUs and predominantly Black higher education institutions.
“Cutting federal support for HBCUs would shoot an already weak economy in the foot,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. HBCUs employ more than 18,000 professors, counselors and other staff, providing an economic boost to their communities that would be at risk with cutbacks.
“Local businesses and national companies depend on the money that the colleges, their employees and students spend,” Taylor said, noting that Black colleges generate a total economic impact of $13 billion nationwide.
Formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the closely watched “super committee” must produce a blueprint with more savings to meet requirements of last summer’s debt ceiling agreement. So far, Democrats and Republicans on the panel have not agreed on a deficit reduction plan, with Republicans largely opposed to tax increases and Democrats seeking to protect vital programs.
But some HBCU leaders say revenue increases are essential for any long-term agreement.
“It would be disconcerting if Congress or the super committee decides to reduce the deficit without raising revenues and cutting funding for HBCUs and PBIs,” said Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Education.
Elsewhere, the Student Aid Alliance, a coalition co-led by the American Council on Education (ACE), also is trying to build a firewall of opposition to cuts in Pell Grants and other programs. More than 110,000 individuals have signed up to endorse a Save Student Aid Statement of Support available online.
Molly Corbett Broad, ACE president, said the campaign’s goal is to protect student aid from any cuts sought by the super committee. Broad says she has been “overwhelmed by the response to the statement,” which is online at the alliance website, www.studentalliance.org.
If members of the super committee cannot reach a deal on deficit reduction, federal education programs could face automatic cuts. The legislation calls for across-the-board reductions, which could be as high as 8 percent of federal education spending, Delisle said.
Some programs for low-income Americans may be exempt from automatic cuts, he told Diverse. However, the committee is likely to focus just on “top-line budgets”—such as funding in certain broad categories such as education, labor and health—without focusing on individual budget line items. That task then would fall to the rest of the House and Senate, potentially indicating more budget battles ahead.
In addition to large federal education programs such as Pell Grants or Title I, tax credits for college tuition also may be at risk, Delisle said. He argued that the only reasonable solution is “shared sacrifice,” with all programs and options on the table.