Congress Creates New $4.5 Billion Math and Science Education Program

In early November, I wrote a piece outlining Congress’ budget endgame. We are just beginning to see the final bills now (one is over 700 pages by itself), so we will post stories about what actually happened as we digest them.

The first program that stands out is an entirely new $4.5 billion program of grants for low-income students to attend college and go on to major in math, science, or foreign language. The program starts out pretty modestly giving $750 to low-income students (the income threshold is same as the federal Pell Grant program) to pay the first year of tuition at a two- or four-year institution of higher education. It then ramps up to $1,300 in year two and $4,000 in both years three and four. The catch is that students have to hold a 3.0 GPA their first year of college and then in the coursework of their major, and, at four-year universities, their major must be in:

  • “the physical, life, or computer sciences [our emphasis], mathematics, technology, or engineering,” or
  • “a foreign language that the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, determines is critical to the national security of the United States.”

The program runs through 2010; after that, it would have to be reauthorized.

Beyond the focus of increasing opportunities for potential math and science majors, what is useful about this program is that it is relatively predictable. Because it is part of the “mandatory” side of the budget it isn’t subject to the annual appropriations process. This means students that stick to the major requirements should be able to depend on the $4,000 grant for each of their last two years of school.

While it is not clear whether this would help increase computer science enrollments, it is clear that Congress thinks that increasing science majors is directly connected to domestic competitiveness. Senator Frist (R-TN), who happens to be Majority Leader in the Senate and a rumored Presidential candidate, championed this program. Here is a highlight from his press release on the program:

“China and India are generating scientists and engineers at a furious pace while America lags dangerously behind. These SMART Grants and Academic Competitiveness Grants help close America’s competitiveness gap and prepare American students for the high-paying, high-skill jobs that drive the 21st century economy. I fought hard to pass this worthy program, and I’m proud we were able to boost funding levels to provide low-income students real incentives to pursue time-intensive math and science degrees. This legislation is a critical national security tool that will also sustain America’s global legacy as a land of innovation, imagination, and initiative.”


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