Stimulus Package and Education

UC Irvine officials are speculating about possible effects the stimulus package may have on students in the upcoming years, but specific ramifications remain uncertain until funding details and timelines become more concrete.
The package passed on Feb. 17 promises to allot $30.8 billion to college affordability with $17 million to alleviate the Pell Grant program, along with $13.8 million to boost tuition tax credits.
“Based on estimates, we expect that the funding in the stimulus plan could provide approximately $22 million to undergraduate students at the University of California who are Pell Grant recipients. And, add an [additional] 2,000 Pell Grant recipients to the University of California,” said Chris Harrington, director of National Media Communications for the UC Washington Center.
Despite this financial aid, UC students can expect a raise in tuition and student fees in the near future.
“I think the regents are going to consider a proposal to increase fees in the coming months, but that proposal has not come to the board yet. But, we will probably see it; it is almost inevitable that fees will increase this year,” said D’Artagnan Scorza, student regent for the University of California.
Scorza stressed the importance of accountability and transparency, urging students to “continue to push and push” the administration in order to obtain information about how their money is being spent.
This kind of information about financial specifics, however, can be difficult to obtain and at times difficult to interpret. Scorza suggests that students should become freedom of information advocates in order to inform the collective student body and make judgments about how tuition money is spent.
According to Scorza, the regents plan to put up a Web site that will reflect how student fees are spent. As a public university, the UC is obligated to provide information to the pubic.
“Without equivocation, the university has to provide ready cooperation, without any reservation,” Scorza said. “The university has to be very clear about how it’s spending these student fees, and I think that’s where we as students have power to influence the process is by demanding accountability and transparency. So, in other words, if the regents were to raise fees, students should say ‘for what?’ ”
Despite this positivism, the new money for education has attracted mixed reactions. Harrington said that the UC welcomed the plan.
“We were pleased that Congress and the administration recognized the important role that colleges and universities play in stimulating the economy and creating jobs,” Harrington said.
However, past experience and learned skepticism has made many withhold praise until results can be seen.
“The danger is that universities, like governments and like private companies, have become extremely adept at wasting money,” said William Schonfeld, UCI professor of political science and former director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. “So, the capacity for organizations and individuals to waste money is almost fathomless. Now, some of that waste might contribute to re-stimulating the economy, but it’s not clear that it will.”
The UC system, along with the state of California, has had issues with spending in the past. California currently has a $42 billion deficit, forcing UCI to halt construction on two buildings this year due to a lack of state funding.
In December 2008 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the headquarters of staff of the UC threw a lavish Christmas party costing approximately $17,772. This money came from the Edward F. Searles fund and was not federal money from taxpayers. According to the UC Web site, the fund was “established in 1919 as an unrestricted gift to the university by Mr. Searles to be used to finance the general purposes of the university which cannot be covered by state funds.”
After the event, criticism was raised as to whether this party was an appropriate use of money in light of the economic crisis. The party budget was reportedly reduced by more than half of the previous year’s, but still lavish enough to garner attention.
Currently, many student organizations are being threatened with budget cuts and are unsure as to their future status.
In light of economic uncertainty, federal monetary aid will be welcomed, but the long-term success of these funds will depend heavily on their allocation.