Many financially strapped colleges were able to stay open, just barely, last year thanks to $2.4 billion in stimulus money for colleges. Well now the stimulus money is pretty much spent and many public colleges are wondering what to do. The American Council on Education warned Tuesday that states need more money to “help public colleges and universities prevent massive layoffs across their campuses.”

According to an article by Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed, the Senate might have found an emergency way to fix the problem:

As state legislators around the country craft their budgets for the 2011 fiscal year, public college officials are afraid that they are about to be thrown off “the cliff” — the steep drop in available funds once the tens of billions of dollars that the federal government made available through last year’s economic recovery legislation run out.

But… public higher education could catch a break, in the form of legislation introduced Wednesday by several Democratic senators that essentially move the cliff. The none-too-subtly titled “Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010,” sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and others, would provide $23 billion to extend for a year the fund in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act that gave states money to ward off budget cuts and tuition increases.

Despite the fact that this is somewhat obviously a frantic attempt to prevent otherwise financially unsound institutions from collapsing, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa tired to make the funding sound like an investment:

How can you argue on the one hand that it’s okay for kids to borrow to go to college, but it’s not all right to borrow to make sure there’s a college for them to go to? It seems to me if there’s one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, it’s in education.

This is actually a pretty damn compelling rhetorical point, though it still doesn’t address long-term solutions or even what colleges are supposed to do next year.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer