American colleges should be bracing for cuts, and not, this time, because the state legislatures are planning to cut funding (again). This time it’s federal money that’s at stake.

According to an article by Charles Dervarics in Diverse Issues in Higher Educaiton:

Education advocates are bracing for more upheaval at the prospect of across-the-board federal budget cuts that would chop more than $4 billion from higher education and K-12 programs starting in January. The reductions, scheduled to begin Jan. 2, would mean automatic cuts of about 8 percent in most federal education programs unless Congress and the White House agree to other options to reduce spending. Congress triggered this January 2013 deadline when its designated “Super Committee” failed to act late last year on a plan to curb federal debt.

While lawmakers always had the option to stop the across-the-board cuts by reducing the federal debt [or increasing taxes], only this summer — in the midst of a presidential campaign — is the issue starting to gain widespread attention on Capitol Hill.

So, um, basically this is going to happen because Congress is simply too incompetent to effectively govern.

Such automatic cuts are formally known as “sequestration.” No one argues that cutting $4 billion would improve education or even do much to fix the budget deficit. Indeed, the threat of such cuts is supposed to compel Congress to fix existing federal budget problems, like demographics and the nation’s tax rate

The automatic January cuts will adversely impact college work/study programs, as well as TRIO, Head Start and special education. Pell Grants, the federal program for low-income students, is thankfully exempt from this latest budget game.

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