Posted by: Anne E. Stuart | March 1, 2013

What will the Impact of Sequestration be?

As my friends and family know, I am generally not one to get into discussions of politics. I am not a fan of conflict, and experience has taught me that it is nearly impossible to discuss politics without some sort of conflict arising from the discussion. Honestly, I never suspected that sequestration would be the topic for this month. I’ve spent most of the week searching for inspiration for today’s post. Not really finding any, I was very tempted to just bail on today’s post and call it a victim of mid-term madness. However, as I sat down after class to eat my lunch, a link to this Chronicle of Higher Education article came across my Twitter feed. As I started to read it, I found my inspiration.

I have several friends who work at Big Public Research schools who have been watching the possibility of sequestration more carefully than I have been. I even had one who joked on Twitter last night about it being Sequester Eve. These friends have directly felt the pressure of the fact that federal agencies (e.g., National Science Foundation, National Institutes for Health, and National Institute for Mental Health) have been prophylactically cutting back on grant funding for a while now. Not only does this hurt the Principal Investigators leading the research, it also affects the grad students and others employed in labs. I have of one friend who is now unemployed because the grants ran out for the research she was working on. Who knows what will happen in regards to future funding for research.

Unlike my friends, I am at a Small Private Teaching-Focused school, where research is rare and federally-funded research is even rarer. However, this doesn’t leave me unaffected by sequestration. It just means it comes in a different form – the impact of sequestration on federal student aid. Much of the student body of my school (and many small schools like mine, given the changing face of college students is dependent on federal student aid. Like many small schools without large endowments to fall back on, my school is dependent on enrollment. Given a number of changes in the landscape of higher education, many small privates are already struggling to stay in the game. Who knows what is going to happen if the students can’t afford to attend.

So, what will the impact of sequestration be? I don’t know. I’m somewhat scared to find out. I can say I empathize with the families of those who are likely to be furloughed. I can remember what it was like to be the child of a federal employee during the Reagan era budget mess. I remember the fear and incomplete understanding of what was happening, on several occasions as I recall, when my dad would have his job “cut”.

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