University of Delaware
University of Delaware faculty members discuss the impacts of sequestration in a video prepared for the Science Coalition.

Sequestration hurts innovation

President Harker voices UD concern about looming sequestration


(Editor’s note: The following op-ed by University of Delaware President Patrick Harker appeared in the Feb. 17, 2013, issue of The News Journal.)

11:09 a.m., Feb. 18, 2013--When Congress struck a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” in early January, it left much of the job undone. The last-minute compromise failed to put forth a plan to reduce the federal deficit — and that failure opens the door to sequestration, an across-the-board, draconian cut of discretionary spending. If Congress doesn’t act by March 1, $85 billion in federal spending reductions will kick in over the next seven months. 

Few efforts would suffer more than education, training and research — the very efforts that drive American prosperity, improve the competitive position of U.S. industry and create high-wage jobs and a skilled workforce to fill them. 

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In Delaware, reductions in preK-12 education spending would cut a swath through programs that provide vital services to our children. Cuts to Delaware’s Title I program, which enables improved instruction in high-poverty schools, could exceed $2 million. Special education cuts would deplete resources going to children with disabilities, and threaten the jobs of their teachers and teaching assistants. Cuts to Head Start would affect critical early education services for young children who need dedicated support to catch up to their peers.

Further cuts would impede Delaware’s robust efforts to ensure a highly qualified teacher in every classroom and a highly qualified principal in every school.

A strong economy requires that a great majority of citizens have the chance to participate in it. If we pull the safety net out from underneath the children and teenagers who most need our support, we hurt not only their standard of living we hurt everyone’s.

This is why squeezing the financial aid programs that make higher education possible for motivated students is myopic. This country’s college-educated workforce has slipped significantly behind marketplace demand. The deficit, now estimated at 300,000 college students a year, severely undermines an expanding economy. And yet federal campus-based financial aid programs face deep cuts under sequestration, as do those that prepare low-income and minority students for college. While Pell Grants — the biggest federal student aid program — are safe in the 2013 budget, they’re anything but in outlying years, jeopardizing a college education for more than 9 million U.S. students.

The sequester doesn’t just thwart access to and preparation for a college education; it also fundamentally harms university research. Most of the basic research yielding commercial technologies that seed — and speed — economic growth is undertaken in U.S. research universities. Three-quarters of the country’s scientists, engineers, physicians and other knowledge workers are educated in public research universities.

If the sequester’s mandatory 5.1 percent cut to non-defense discretionary spending goes through, UD’s biggest federal granting agencies will feel significant pain. The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.5 billion; the U.S. Department of Energy would lose $562 million; the National Science Foundation would lose $286 million. These blunt reductions mean UD would have to absorb $5.5 million in research expenditure cuts over the next seven months, with deeper cuts to come.

These cuts would slice salaries and stipends for the research assistants and graduate students who are paid from federal grants and contracts, shrinking the pipeline of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) available to the industries doing this vital work. 

STEM-related industries, absolutely central to Delaware’s economic vitality, are those where the gap between employer needs and workforce skills is most significant. 

The answer is not to inhibit but to invest — in our children and our schools, in our college students and our universities, in transformative research and in a workforce that will innovate new technologies.

The sequester would deal a devastating blow to the work that Delaware does every day. Decimating investment in education and research isn’t the way to fiscal health and prosperity. We need discriminating deficit-reduction solutions — solutions that strengthen Delaware’s job-creating, economy-growing enterprises.

Patrick T. Harker

President, University of Delaware


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