FacultyEnlight

WHAT THE FEDERAL SHUTDOWN MEANS TO ACADEMIA

Many of us work in college towns and operate in our own on-campus world, so it’s easy to forget what is happening right around us. But with this week’s federal shutdown headlining, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the effects it is having in the higher education arena. What is being disrupted right now? What could happen in the near future? Here is what you need to know.

Most people won’t be severely affected by the shutdown as long as it ends shortly—within the next week, at least. But for some, even a few days without government departments and funding means widespread monetary and education loss. Many schools use various research functions or funds to do work, study, and teach, but five undergraduate schools in the U.S. are actually federally funded—meaning they’re almost completely shut down. At the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, for example, the whole school has closed for normal operations (subscription only), and because the school operates year-round, classes and time cannot be made up.

But for the average public or private university, changes are occurring on a smaller level. Smithsonian research resources (and museums) are closed, meaning scholars are unable to access data or records. The Education Department has furloughed most of its employees, and related institutions have closed down. This means that while most funding and grants are still accessible, campus-based programs such as federal work-study programs could find themselves with students who have nowhere to turn.

If the government shutdown lasts much longer, problems could arise for millions of faculty and students alike. Programs would shut down, funding would slow down, and communication with project leaders would likely be cut off. 14 million college students in the country receive some type of financial aid, in fact, and an extended shutdown means it would take months or even years to catch up on disbursements or new grant approval. Just about 10 percent of the U.S. Department of Education is working this week, and with the last government shutdown (1995-1996) lasting three weeks, everyone in academia hopes that the government will quickly regain footing.

Many faculty members are coping with the shutdown by opening the classroom to discuss and debate the shutdown. What do your students think? How will it affect their education, the way other countries view America, and budgets throughout higher ed institutions? A solution may not be in our hands, but talking through the situation can lead to even more important and interesting conversations about education.