Congress directed more than $1 billion to specific colleges and universities in the federal budget this year, a record for a noncompetitive process critics assail as pork barrel spending, The Chronicle of Higher Education says in a report being issued Sunday.
The total is more than 30 percent greater than last year's record $797 million, the journal said, and it's a sizable portion of the $40 billion in this year's overall federal appropriations for higher education, which includes student aid.
Such funding, without being subjected to review by the agencies directed to give out the money, is known as "earmarks" in the federal budget.
Critics call it "pork" -- gifts that members of Congress give to their districts.
But defenders say schools have to find money wherever they can, and that no member of Congress or school wants to risk looking silly by throwing money at a bad project.
"There's an awful lot of people busy pointing fingers, rather than trying to lend a hand," said Vincent Scalia, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado. "Politicians are not that dumb."
Scalia's college got a $1.81 million earmark to enlarge a cancer rehabilitation institute. "I would say it's politics at its best, not its worst side."
But opponents of earmarking sees only politics.
Many of the funded projects have merit, said Ken White, director of the Massachusetts office of Common Cause, the government watchdog group. "But the federal government is too often seen as a place for everybody to line up with their hands out to ask for something. This is the kind of thing that turns people off to politics."
The earmarking system "does not allow for anyone to analyze the projects and determine if they serve a good educational purpose -- or if the money could be better used at another school," said Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass.
The Chronicle, a Washington-based weekly, analyzed spending in the federal budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Its report appears in the July 28 edition.
Much of federal spending for higher education goes through a review process, and federal agencies often hold competitions to choose recipients of money for research, facilities and other projects.
But sometimes, earmarking may be the only option, administrators say.
Dartmouth College received $15 million for research on terrorism, especially assaults on computer systems. When the school in Hanover, N.H., wanted to create an institute for this work, no big competitive grant programs existed, Provost Susan Prager told The Associated Press.
The school turned to Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Dartmouth is known nationally for cybersecurity, and Senator Gregg is fortunate to be in a position to help not only Dartmouth, but a number of worthwhile projects in New Hampshire," said Jim Morhard, a committee aide.
The Chronicle found the most earmarked grants -- money not shared with other schools, businesses or agencies -- went to California at $64 million. It was followed by Texas, $47.5 million; and Mississippi, $40 million. Only Delaware schools received no earmarked funds.
The biggest single recipient was Loma Linda University in California, with $36 million for a variety of medical research and to retrofit a building against earthquakes. The Seventh-day Adventist school of 3,500 students is in the district represented by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. Lewis chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee, and several of the Loma Linda grants came from the Defense Department, the Chronicle noted.
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