Looking long-term: Budget cuts send VIMS out to sea

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October 24, 2008

1:39 PM

The Virginia government and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine have joined other financially embattled states like Maryland and California in putting students and profitable career training on the back burner for the time being.

In ordering the College of William and Mary to cut $3.4 million from its budget, Kaine is gearing up for another year when Virginia won’t be able to properly fund its public schools. But a more interesting problem is the $1.5 million cut for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Surprisingly enough, just when Virginia and other states should be fully investing in the lucrative careers of marine biologists — fishery stock assessment scientists — they are turning their backs on the graduate students who plan to pursue those paths.

The major appeal of VIMS and other state-funded graduate schools across the nation is that they offer higher education and graduate studies for a more affordable price. As states pull funding from these institutions, more and more students are unable to pursue their career goals, or they sink waist deep into student loans and debt in the process of getting through graduate school.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated in a report to Congress that the nation would need up to 340 new fishery stock assessment scientists in the next decade, and the graduates that it has been getting are not nearly as well-trained or numerous as they have been in the past.
The organization also expressed its concern about the low number of statistics, mathematics and ecosystems studies offered at the undergraduate level.

Unless everyone is getting dumber, this is definitely an issue with funding. VIMS is an institute in Virginia that cooperates with other schools, government agencies and businesses to ensure a better marine world with recuperating fish populations, thriving marine life and unpolluted waters. VIMS is responsible for monitoring the decline in blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, marking the change in oysters due to climate change, and identifying an increasing number of dead zones in water that was once teaming with marine life. However, VIMS will starve marine science institutes of much-needed new scientists as it faces budget cuts.

Students will be ill-prepared for marine science careers if VIMS doesn’t find another source of cash flow. VIMS Dean John Wells commented about the effect of the budget cuts on the program, “We anticipate that the elimination of faculty positions by attrition will reduce disciplinary diversity and necessitate elimination of some graduate course offerings.”

Even if you’re not honing in on your future in marine science, the plight of VIMS on its shoe string budget should be worrisome. What we’re going to see at VIMS is an effect similar to that of the College — a snowball effect. The more the state takes away from our education to fix problems now, the more likely career, unemployment and funding problems will arise in the future.

Programs will evaporate like the money that funds them. NOAA will have to make do with lesser quality graduate students who are taught by fewer professors.

VIMS is responsible for marine life studies all along the east coast, not just in Virginia. Professors will lose research assistants, the NOAA will be lacking in fisheries and stock assessment scientists and, most importantly, graduate students will miss out on the high quality preparation for future marine science careers for which VIMS is famous.

In the face of the national financial crisis, Virginia must not shy away from investing in its own future.

Brittany Hamilton is a junior at the College.

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