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‘Transformational’: Federal Earmarks a Boon for Higher Ed

‘Transformational’: Federal Earmarks a Boon for Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed

Katherine Knott
January 23, 2023
Congress sent more than $1.7 billion to nearly 550 colleges and universities in earmarks. Although a few institutions received tens of millions for projects, the median payment for institutions was $1.25 million, according to an Inside Higher Ed analysis.
The University of Maine System is planning to use an infusion of federal funds to construct an advanced manufacturing research lab, start a new program in aviation maintenance, modernize a wild blueberry research facility and launch a statewide tick and tick-borne disease study.
The system and its affiliated campuses received nearly $53 million in earmarks for nearly two dozen projects as part of the fiscal year 2023 budget. Earmarks are doled out at the discretion of lawmakers and are not subject to a competitive peer-review process. The Association of American Universities has argued that earmarking of federal research funds has impaired the quality of federal research programs. The association declined to comment on the record about the recent batch of earmarks.
Higher education has been a top beneficiary of earmarks, which returned in 2021 after Democrats reversed a decade-long ban and made several reforms to the process. Earmarks, which have been renamed “congressionally directed spending” in the Senate and “community project funding” in the House of Representatives, send federal funds for specific projects to lawmakers’ districts and states.
We needed a shot in the arm,” said Dannel Malloy, chancellor of the University of Maine System. “This is allowing that to happen.”
Of the more than 500 institutions that requested and received earmarks, the system had the most projects funded, which ranged from $17,000 to $8 million, according to an analysis of an Inside Higher Ed database of earmarks in the federal budget. The system’s use of earmarks is similar to how other institutions have used this process—to advance strategic goals, repair facilities and address challenges in their communities.
“We knew these earmarks were coming back, and I think we did the early work to be in front of it and to have a concise presentation of how the state could benefit from these investments,” Malloy said.
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