Stony Brook University’s biggest financial sponsor is officially broke. A history of rising debt ceilings culminated in a last-ditch effort to correct the country’s financial problems: automatic spending cuts for the country’s defense and domestic programs. Stony Brook could stand to lose $7.6 million as the United States federal government begin to cut all non-defense discretionary spending by 5.1 percent, said SBU President Samuel L. Stanley in an email.
In the year 2011-2012, a total of $144 million was given to the university either directly through various federal agencies or by federal flow-through – non-federal institutions supported fully or partially by federal money. This alone funded 75 percent of the school’s total expenditures for that academic year, according to the Office of Stony Brook Research.
“This funding fosters innovation, research, discovery and economic growth,” the university said in response to the sequester. “It results in new technologies, improved therapies, cures for disease and countless products, ideas and materials that further drive the economy and increase our nation’s global competitiveness.”
Cuts affect federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Departments of Defense, of Agriculture and of Energy, all of which provide money to colleges and universities for research, it said. A cut to their budgets ultimately means less money for college grants and graduate-level research.
College students outside of the sphere of academic research can also expect to take a hard hit financially. A statement by SBU in 2011 said more than 6,100 out of 16,000 undergraduate students at Stony Brook receive federal aid through a Pell Grant.
Overall, almost 9.7 million students received $33.4 billion through Pell Grants for the 2011-2012 year, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Though the Budget Control Act of 2011 exempts the Pell program from cuts for a year, those graduating after 2014 will have to find some way of dealing with cuts in other federal financial aid and the yearly five percent tuition hike from the NY SUNY2020 plan.
According to the university, if the sequestration continues beyond 2013, the amount awarded by the Pell Grant could lower by $400 per student by 2014 to 2015.
And It’s not just the Pell Grant that will be affected by cuts.
“The threat sequestration poses will not only impact research conducted at universities but thousands of students at higher education institutions around the nation,” Stanley said. “Federal Work Study (FWS) programs, which provide low- and middle-income students the opportunity to work part-time while they are in school, stand to lose nearly $50 million in federal support.”
The National Education Association (NEA) project much higher numbers than Stanley does. According to the NEA, federal work-study programs are slated to lose $76.3 million, affecting 713,100 students countrywide. FSEOG – federal supplemental educational opportunity grants – are predicted to lose $57.4 million.
White House reports on the effects of sequestration on a state-by-state basis provide for the same bleak numbers on the strain it’ll cause to students receiving aid in New York.
“Around 4,520 fewer low income students in New York would receive aid to help them finance the costs of college,” it said, “and around 4,150 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college.”
While a $400 cut might not sound like much in regard to the tens of thousands owed by college students everywhere, it can still prove to be a hardship when coupled with the hikes.
“This will be a problem for working class families,” said Eric Noh. “They have to consider putting aside more money for tuition. It [sequester cuts] may lead to some students dropping out.”
Noh, a freshman majoring in environmental design and planning, depends largely on subsidized loans and federal scholarships to keep his out-of-state tuition paid.
Though a decrease in spending may help curb the country’s rising deficit, a decrease in students able to afford their bachelor’s degrees will shrink a pool of taxable income that’s higher than that of high school diploma holders, he said.
“It’s good that the budget is being balanced, given the current economic situation,” he said. “But it’s also unfortunate to put an obstacle on higher education.”
Shaquille Simpson, another out-of-state student at SBU, is also starting to feel the financial pressure.
“Budget cuts are happening left and right,” said Simpson, another freshman at the university, “To take a cut in aid, well, that’ll just make it more difficult for students and families to pay their tuition.”
“I know I certainly cannot afford to take [an] eight percent cut,” he said.
Although defense spending is taking a bigger cut than domestic spending, some still call for a readjustment in priorities.
“It defies not only reason, but also fairness and equality, to suggest that we can erase our national debt by slashing critical priorities like education and medical research,” said Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa.
Non-defense spending only accounts for a sixth of the GDP, he argues. Money spent on health services and education also created more jobs than similar monetary investments into the military. Cuts to those specific sectors would only cause steeper unemployment in a risky economic environment, he said.
“These spending reductions would result in the loss of 746,222 direct jobs,” said Stephen Fuller, professor and Director for the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
Both defense and non-defense cuts are expected to lead to higher job terminations in the federal government and all other institutions that rely on federal money to operate on a day-to-day basis. According to a report published by Fuller, New York alone is projected to lose 70,010 jobs from the budget cuts.
As one of the largest employers in Suffolk County, Stony Brook is expected to see its own share of cuts. Whether it is in jobs, research grants, scholarship opportunities or even something as basic as a loan, students will need to readjust to the new changes and how it will affect them.
“We all must come together with good will to hammer out a balanced agreement that will not only prevent sequestration, but reduce our deficit and protect America’s families,” Harkin said. “The time for ideological posturing is past.