Shopping Spree

Peter Wood

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $44 billion for education to be spent in the 30 to 45 days following February 17, when President Obama signed the law.   Other funds kick in a little later, $17.3 billion for Pell Grants and work-study for next academic year, and $35 billion for Title I, IDEA, and State Fiscal Stabilization Funds to be spent between July 1 and September 30. 

Higher education has to share some of this windfall with lower education, but it appears that colleges and universities get between $50 and $75 billion all told.   It is hard to tell the exact amount because the “state stabilization” fund lets the states decide how to divide some of the money between public colleges and universities and elementary and secondary schools.  Some of the money is allotted for specific purposes—more or less.  The National Institutes of Health got an additional $8.5 billion for biomedical research and $1.5 billion to renovate university research facilities. 

But it seems safe to assume that with an urgent need to spend $44 billion by the end of this month, the Department of Education will soon be willing to take a “no reasonable offer refused” approach towards requests for funds from those of us in the academic world.

One correspondent tells us what she plans to do with her share of the $44 billion:

First I'm going to buy my own college.  Then hire all my current administrative colleagues.  And then make them do project A, then scratch that and make them do the opposite, then scratch that and make them do project A again, but better.  Then scratch that and do the opposite, then A, then its opposite, A, its opposite, A, its opposite, A, opposite, A, opposite.  Until they or pick one another off or spontaneously combust.

In other words, this would establish the academic equivalent of a government-designated “bad bank,” in which non-performing loans and toxic assets are segregated from the financial system as a whole.  The “bad college” approach would divert toxic college administrators into a realm where they could do no further harm.

We’re not sure this is the most constructive use of public funds, though it is far from the worst of proposals currently under consideration.  

The proposal also makes us wonder what our well-placed readers intend to do with their shares of $44 billion.   Time is running out.  How will you spend your part? 

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