NIH Science Education Programs at Risk


Proposed Reorganization of STEM Programs Threatens Funding for Health and Biomedical Education

Click HERE for the photobook of programs that will be impacted by the proposed reorganization.

On April 10, 2013, the White House submitted a FY14 budget request to Congress that radically reorganizes federally-funded Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education (STEM) programs across multiple agencies, particularly the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA.  In the proposal, 266 programs across 13 agencies would be consolidated into 122 programs. The budget proposal identifies the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the Smithsonian as the primary agencies to organize and oversee future federally-funded STEM education efforts.

The following day, NIH held a conference call for all NIH grantees with funding for K-12 and informal science and health education projects. Dr. Larry Tabak, principal deputy director at NIH, announced that NIH is “pausing” funding for these programs. No new grants will be awarded. Non-competing renewals will be funded in FY 2013, but funding after that is uncertain. While increased coordination of STEM education across federal agencies is a laudable goal, several consequences of the proposed changes have profound implications for health and biomedical education in the US.  In particular, the elimination of the Office of Science Education at the National Institutes of Health and the Science Education Partnership Award  (SEPA) and similar science education programs at individual NIH institutes would threaten our national competitiveness, security, public health, and broader understanding of, and support for, science.

The NIH Office of Science Education (OSE) is scheduled to close at the end of September, 2013.  The OSE has had a tremendous impact on health science education through its many programs.  For example, OSE staff have distributed 450,000 Curriculum Supplements to approximately 100,000 educators across the U.S.  Their website receives over one million hits/year. If you are interested in receiving hard copies of their popular Curriculum Supplement series, please contact them at

The journal Science, in Wild Cards Remain After Proposed Reshuffle of STEM Education (April 19, 2013; vol 340, p. 258-259), notes the following:

Many science educators say that the proposed cuts would scrap effective programs just as the country needs to be doing more.  ‘”The SEPA program is the face of the NIH to the country,” says a grantee on one of the programs facing the chopping block. “It’s a vehicle for telling the public how NIH is translating science into practice,” says the grantee, who requested anonymity (p. 258).

The Co-STEM Committee at the Office of Science and Technology Policy is scheduled to release a strategic plan in mid-May with additional information.

The following link provides the complete list of programs under consideration to be paused/consolidated/eliminated:

Proposed STEM Education Reorganization Contained in the President’s FY14 Budget Request
Note especially the following list relative to health and biomedical education:

  • 30 Clinical Research Training Program HHS
  • 31 Curriculum Supplement Series HHS
  • 32 NIAID Science Education Awards HHS
  • 33 NINDS Diversity Research Education Grants in Neuroscience HHS
  • 34 NLM Institutional Grants for Research Training in Biomedical Informatics HHS
  • 35 OD Science Education Partnership Award HHS (SEPA)
  • 36 Office of Science Education K-12 Program HHS (NIH Office of Science Education)
  • 37 Public Health Traineeship HHS
  • 38 Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award HHS
  • 39 Short Term Educational Experiences for Research (STEER) in the Environmental health Sciences for Undergraduates and High School Students HHS

The following are points raised by the SEPA community in response to this development:

The Need for Health and Biomedical Science Education Programs Aimed at Grades K–12 and the Broader Public at the NIH

Health and biomedical sciences for grades K-12 are critical components of STEM education that help to ensure the nation’s capability to prevent disease and improve health. The proposed 2014 STEM education consolidation plan, however, eliminates K-12 and informal health and biomedical science education from its traditional place in the portfolio of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and, by default, from the national STEM education agenda. No other federal agency supports programs comparable to those that would be lost.

More than 65 NIH-funded, K-12 health and biomedical science education projects currently operate in 40 states. These include “in-person” programs for more than 82,500 K-12 students and 5,750 K-12 teachers each year, and online programs that reach more than 20 million K-12 students and educators annually. NIH-funded exhibitions at some of the nation’s largest museums and science centers reach millions more students, teachers and families. With emphasis on engaging underserved populations, K-12 educational initiatives supported by NIH create thoroughly evaluated, science-rich interactive exhibits, curriculum materials, teacher professional development programs, student and teacher research experiences, and out-of-school learning opportunities. Ongoing NIH-funded K-12 educational programs benefit the nation in the following ways.

  • Improve preparation for, and access to careers in medicine, healthcare, biotechnology and biomedical research, with a focus on students from under-represented groups.Address health disparities by increasing access to college and health professions careers for under-served students, who are more likely than their peers to practice in medically underserved areas.
  • Build public understanding and support of biomedical research and clinical trials through educational programs that emphasize the relationship between NIH discoveries and their translation into positive health outcomes.
  • Encourage and facilitate involvement of biomedical research scientists in K-12 STEM education, and engage the resources of colleges, universities, medical schools and science museums in supporting K-12 STEM education.
  • Promote health literacy and better decision-making to address preventable health problems among America’s youth, reduce the burdens of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases, and enable consumers to make sense of genetic and other newly available health information.
  • Increase students’ interest in STEM topics through personally relevant examples from health and biomedicine that are aligned with recommendations of the Next Generation Science Standards.
For more than two decades, NIH has invested in the development of human capital and a unique infrastructure that is meeting our nation’s K-12 health and biomedical science education needs. These investments have produced significant, demonstrable outcomes that would not have been possible otherwise. Current K-12 programs sponsored by NIH, including the Office of Science Education, employ rigorous, results-oriented and cost-effective approaches to tackle major national issues, as listed below.
  • Jobs: Healthcare and biomedical science are crucial elements of the economy. The US Department of Commerce estimates that healthcare accounts for $1.75 trillion in revenues and employs more than 14 million people (nine percent of the US workforce).
  • Provider Shortages: The nation faces an acute shortage of healthcare workers in all areas, and the problem is expected to grow. The American Association of Medical Colleges projects that there will be a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians—including 45,000 primary care physicians—by the end of the decade. About 55 million people already lack access to a physician.
  • Wellness and Disease Prevention: According to the Milken Institute, more than half of all Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases, many of which are preventable. Healthcare spending is projected to reach almost 20% of the US gross domestic product by 2021. Racial and ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately from diseases such as cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, but participate less frequently in programs that could help to reduce disparities.

Without K-12 health and biomedical science education initiatives, our nation will be unable to solve many of its most pressing workforce, economic and healthcare problems.

Download points above as a PDF: NIH-K12
Sources: Fixing the Doctor Shortage (AAMC) – Health Economic Fact Sheet – The Health and Medical Technology Industry in the United States  – Next Generation Science Standards – Milken Institute Center for Health Economics

Fig. 1. Distribution of 2012 Science Education Partnership Awards by State.
Nearly every state will be impacted by these changes.


Taking action:

Additional Resources
Please contact us at with suggestions and corrections

NWABR at 2012 National Science Teachers Association Conference

Join NWABR at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Indianapolis this week!

NWABR and Science Education Partners at NSTA Seattle 2011

Come join Jeanne Chowning, NWABR Director of Education, and Joan Griswold, Curriculum Design Lead, at NSTA Indianapolis 2012! We will present several hands-on lessons from our popular high school curriculum units.  These resources are designed to introduce teachers and students to cutting-edge science topics and to provide educators with structured frameworks for discussing related ethical issues.  Click on the links below to view our curricular materials on our website!

Sessions include:

The Science and Ethics of Animal Research
Thursday, March 29, 8am-9am
JW Marriott, Grand Ballroom 4

Integrating Bioinformatics into Introductory Biology Courses
Thursday, March 29, 2pm-3pm
JW Marriott, Grand Ballroom 4

Stem Cells: Science and Ethics
Friday, March 30
Indiana Convention Center, 204

We hope to see you there!

Support for NWABR’s curriculum development is provided by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources and the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives of the National Institutes of Health through Grant Number R25OD011138 and by an Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers award from the National Science Foundation, DRL 0833779.