Assessing the level and changes in bipartisanship in Federal higher education: a historical analysis of higher education appropriations, 1980-2017

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University of Alabama Libraries

Despite the continuous shifts in and long-term trend toward more partisanship in our national government, there is a need for consistent and accurate research to better prepare and inform policy leaders of trends in federal higher education appropriations. There is some literature regarding federal funding for higher education that assesses the changes in appropriations, but there is little, if any that reveals the impact of divided government and the use of reconciliation as budget tools. This study analyzed federal allocations to nine different higher education programs. The nine programs are: (1) Pell Grants, (2) Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), (3) Work-Study, (4) Perkins Loans, (5) Direct Student Loan Program, (6) Family Education Loans, (7) Aid for Institutional Development, (8) TRIO programs, and (9) Scholarships and Fellowships. A comparison of appropriations over 37 years from the inception of the United States Department of Education in the final year of President Jimmy Carter’s administration, through the second administration of President Barack Obama was conducted. This period encompassed the tenures of 6 presidents, 19 Congresses, and 11 federal Secretaries of Education from 1980 to 2017. The importance and need for this analysis is underscored by the recent finding that, for the first time in 2010, the federal government surpassed all state funding as the main source of revenue to fund public higher education. This funding shift speaks to a growing federal role in higher education, and occurs even as most commentators document growing political polarization in the United States. In the three articles that follow, the level of partisanship of federal higher education appropriations is analyzed across the executive and legislative branches of government. The first article assesses how U.S. presidents treat federal investments in higher education. It specifically compares presidential budget requests to actual enacted appropriations. What presidents propose the greatest and the least in higher education appropriations? Do election years matter for higher education budget proposals? The second article analyzes the impact of party control on annual higher education appropriations among the presidency, U.S. House of Representatives, and U.S. Senate. Does higher education are better under one party or the other? In the 37 years under study, there have been 12 years of a divided Congress, 13 years of a Democratic Congress, and 13 years of a Republican Congress. Article three assesses the impact of budget reconciliation on higher education appropriations. This is important because Congress has passed all 12 appropriations bills only four times since 1977. Together, these articles provide a clear analysis of the level and changes in bipartisanship of federal higher education over the 1980-2017 period.

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Public policy