Stimulating minds, for now

The stimulus package helps make college more affordable and funds research opportunities, but the changes are not yet permanent

President Barack Obama will sign into law the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in Denver, today . At roughly $32 billion , the packageâÄôs higher education provisions bring a little peace of mind to students, parents and administrators who have been watching budgets spiral into the red as the economy sours. The maximum Pell Grant available to students will increase more than $800 over the next two years to $5,550 as the program expands to include roughly 800,000 more students . The package will also increase the family tuition tax credit to $2,500. The House version of the bill had included $6 billion in construction funding, which was slashed in negotiations . Lawmakers explain that $39 billion of the $54 billion state stabilization fund is set aside specifically for education and can be used for construction. Particularly attractive to the University of Minnesota is the estimated $15 billion for scientific research, including $1.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health. One certainly gets a strange feeling when seeing the government increase education funding; just three years ago Federal financial aid funding was reduced $12.5 billion . Perhaps students turning out in higher numbers prompted a reprioritization, or the Washington Post started publishing tuition and student debt statistics, but the news is welcome. The problem comes in maintaining the spending, which our leaders designed as a one-shot economic stimulus. What will happen to these provisions two years from now when the $32 billion has dried up? Families who had accounted for a tax credit may not get one in 2011. Researchers may well lose their source of funding or a studentâÄôs Pell Grant award may drop by as much as $300 , if he or she doesnâÄôt lose eligibility altogether. While the stimulus package gives some much-needed attention to higher education, more must be done to ensure the progress isnâÄôt lost with the biennium.