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Financial aid, research targeted for federal stimulus money

BY ANNA LOTHSON | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

After a heated debate, a $787 billion compromise, and nearly 1,100 pages of legislation, the federal stimulus bill is set to be signed by President Obama today — keeping UI officials on the edge of their seats.

“I’m hoping for the best as the money starts to flow,” said Derek Willard, the UI special assistant to the president for Governmental Relations, and he will closely watch the economic effect both at the UI and nationally.

And while the bill’s full effect on the university is yet to be known, most research fields and student aid will vastly benefit from the allocations — $15.6 billion for Pell Grant increases and billions more investing in health-care and scientific research.

“Major public universities should be very pleased with what was in the stimulus bill,” Willard said, and higher education will now get the attention needed during a critical economic time.

Despite the maximum amount for Pell Grants — now increased to roughly $5,300 — being almost left out of the final version of the bill, he said, the new grant funds will definitely stimulate the economy.

“It enables students and families to use those funds, that might have been used from their own household income, to be freed up and spent on other things,” he said.

The student-aid increase will be seen right away, but health-care and science funding will be more of a long-term investment.

Mark Warner, the UI director of Student Financial Aid, said the nearly 10 percent increase in Pell Grant assistance is significant, and the action will help the neediest of UI student achieve their higher education goals.

“Access is our highest priority,” he said, and the bill may also provide money for work-study programs, a growing trend at the UI.

The university always increases the amount of financial aid when tuition increases, he said, and he believes the stimulus bill will decrease the amount students are forced to borrow.

Outside the financial sector, the university will also probably receive some federal attention on research, said Jordan Cohen, the interim vice president for Research.

In years past, he said, funding for grants and facility restoration has significantly dipped because of budget crunches, but the stimulus may give many research programs a new life.

Specifically, two future UI buildings — the College of Public Health, and the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery — would be prime candidates for receiving stimulus funding from the National Institutes of Health.

In terms of competitiveness, Cohen said, he thinks the UI will remain high on the list, making it a very viable candidate in funding for research as well as updating facilities.

Health science, biomedical sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and social sciences are all areas that could directly benefit from the federal money, he said.

And until the specifics of the allocations are determined, Willard said, he will continue to work closely with national congressional delegates as well as UI students and faculty to ensure the needs of the UI are known.

“I will follow up with [congressional members] to show how this funding is actually working out,” he said.


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