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Lawrence co-signs letter on increased federal educational support

By Iona Feldman

Section: News

September 6, 2013

During the summer, President Fred Lawrence was one of many administrators and university presidents to sign a letter to President Obama and Congress, calling for increased federal support for higher education. The 198 signatories included the presidents and chancellors of numerous public and private colleges and universities across the country. Using the term “innovation deficit,” the letter argues that increased federal student financial aid investment in research is essential to maintaining the United States’ historic position as a leader in technological development and economic growth.

According to a report from the College Board, in 2010 the U.S. came in 12th place in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who hold college degrees. Leading in this category was Korea at 57.9 percent. Canada, Russia and Japan also stand in comparable positions. In contrast, only 41.6 percent of this age group have college degrees in the United States. Citing this statistic, the letter points to the increased government investment in China, Korea and Singapore, which differs greatly from recent political developments in the U.S. The letter ultimately calls on the president and Congress to “reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education.”

In an email exchange with The Hoot this week, President Lawrence gave a further explanation of his position: “I signed it because, like presidents at other universities, I believe that higher education and university research have been instrumental in creating opportunity in the United States and that this belief is core to our mission at Brandeis.”

Federal funding has historically played a major role at Brandeis. Twenty-two percent of the University’s current $293 million operating budget comes from grants and contracts. Many of these originate from the federal government, through Grants.gov or the National Institutes of Health.

Many students also receive financial aid in order to attend Brandeis. Twenty percent of Brandeis students receive federal grants, while 55 percent receive student loans. While loans may also be private, they can include need-based federal programs such as Perkins loans, Stafford loans and federal work study. As the full cost of attendance approaches $60,000, many Brandeis students rely on some form of aid, whether through Brandeis’ own grants or through the federal or state governments.

In recent weeks, President Obama has actually proposed a solution to the high cost of education for students. He suggested a rating system that would allocate more financial aid toward students attending universities judged by the executive branch to provide better educational opportunity. This would be determined by looking at cost of attendance, student debt, graduation rates and percentage of low-income students. Although President Lawrence believes that Brandeis performs well in the guidelines proposed by the administration, he expressed some reservation about the applicability of these guidelines to all schools.

“Colleges and universities vary a great deal. For example, salaries for graduates in major metropolitan areas—one proposed measurement—are much higher than those for graduates in smaller cities and towns across America. At Brandeis we value social justice and public service, and we know that those are not the highest paid professions—yet they do a tremendous amount of good for our society. Any metric that failed to take that into account would be doing a poor job of evaluating the full benefits and opportunities that a university conferred on its graduates,” he said earlier this week.

Lawrence also noted that because Obama’s proposal is still in its early stages, it is not very easy to assess at the moment. Nevertheless, the hope remains among many college administrators, professors and students that increased federal government investment will contribute positively to higher education.

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