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Washington State University among research schools vulnerable to sequester

PULLMAN – Washington State University researcher Michael Kahn is already reeling from state and federal budget cuts. Now Kahn, the associate director of the university’s Agriculture Research Center, said sequestration may cost the center $500,000.

“There aren’t many street corners in Pullman that you can go out and put a cup and get that kind of money,” Kahn said.

Washington’s public universities are beginning to sort through the effects of last week’s federal sequestration, which automatically cut $85 billion. Those cuts are expected to hit Head Start programs, public schools, welfare programs and the U.S. Department of Defense.

At colleges and universities that receive federal funding for research and student aid, only one thing is certain about the cuts: No one is certain what to expect.

“It depends on so many things,” said Joan King, chief budget officer at WSU. “We don’t know for sure what’s going to be cut or by how much.”

Major research institutions like WSU and the University of Washington are projecting cuts in the millions from grant-giving institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. WSU will face up to $12 million in cuts. UW may see as much as $100 million.

Grants for fiscal year 2012-’13 will be honored, but grants that extend past that point may see reductions. Researchers may see layoffs and furloughs, but they’ll have to wait and see.

Becka Johnson, UW’s higher education policy analyst, said researchers will face the biggest cuts. UW has received at least $1 billion in federal research contracts for the past three fiscal years, she said.

The cuts could render some studies incomplete, said Guy Palmer, the director of WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.

“Many times, you can’t just say, ‘Well, we’re going to do less research,’ because in fact doing the full proposed research is necessary to actually answer the question and address the problem effectively,” Palmer said.

Lawrence Pintak, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, said the college’s researchers “are participants in several million dollars in federal grants.” The college also receives State Department funding for Arab journalism students to study in the U.S. each summer. “We have not yet heard from our funders on whether these projects will be affected by sequestration,” he said. At all universities, cuts to financial aid may also be significant in coming years. Programs like work study, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and student loans may see cuts in the 2013-’14 school year; Pell Grants will, for now, remain untouched.

WSU estimates it will lose up to $34,000 in federal work study. UW will cover losses of $33,000 to federal work study for its students in the 2013-’14 school year, Johnson said.

Many of the cuts to financial aid could be offset by university funding.

Western Washington University will use reserve funds to offset cuts to student aid, totaling $800,000 through the 2013-’14 school year, WWU President Bruce Shepard said in a news release. At the University of Idaho, Vice President of Research Jack McIver told KPBX Radio he’s fairly confident he can ride out the rest of this school year without layoffs. Howard Grimes, Idaho State University’s vice president for research and economic development, expects a budget cut of $1 million to $1.6 million.

Eastern Washington University faces a $13,500 cut to the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, said Ruth Galm, the executive director of the office of grants and research development at the university. That program supports graduate students from underrepresented demographics. About 28 students get assistance from the program each year.

The cuts may also affect the university’s Early Head Start program, which serves about 115 women in Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. The program operates on a $1.8 million grant, of which Galm expects about $100,000 to be cut.

Eric Francavilla, Sean Quinton and Kelly Montgomery contributed to this report. The Murrow News Service provides stories written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.