Time for Lean Research | NSF Reports Decline In State Support for Research Universities | Inside Higher Ed

Good piece covering NSF’s new “Science and Engineering Indicators” and its data on the funding of research universities in the U.S. — sound like its time for the Lean University. From Kevin Kiley of Inside Higher Ed:

In inflation-adjusted dollars, total state support for the top 101 public universities declined by 10 percent between 2002 and 2010, with nearly 75 percent receiving cuts. Because institutions’ enrollments grew significantly during this period, the per-student decline was about twice as steep. State funding declined as a share of these universities’ budgets from 28 percent in 2001 to 19 percent in 2009. According to the report, funding dipped in the early years, rose until 2008, and then fell sharply as the recession hit.

“Following the two recessions that bookended the past decade, states had serious budget shortfalls,” Ray Bowen, a mechanical engineering professor at Rice University, former president of Texas A&M University, and chairman of the board, said in a press release. “But the decline in support for postsecondary education, especially public research universities, is a cause for great concern as we examine the condition of U.S. global competitiveness.”

An interesting theme in the piece is that research universities have faced deeper cuts, often because lawmakers see them as have multiple sources of revenue vs community colleges and other publicly funded institutions.

Later in the piece,

“It seems to be a pattern around the country,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability. “Nobody decided they wanted to see it this way.” Wellman said the confluence of decreased revenues, increased entitlement spending, and research universities’ ability to raise revenues outside of state funding hit research universities the hardest.

According to the report, Colorado’s research universities saw the sharpest decline in per-student funding, dropping from $6,617 in 2002 to $3,148 in 2010. The Colorado constitution has a provision that protects K-12 funding, so higher education has typically been one of the first items on the chopping block there. And the research institutions there were hit the hardest in terms of total dollars cut, though the state has given them more leeway to raise tuition, and their spending per student has decreased significantly less than community colleges and other four-year institutions.

Robust research universities are crucial to city, regional and national advantage. While the state should not be a primary supporter of leading institutions (see above stats on States role in budges), the leadership needs to move faster to get away from the state dole as well as finding more ways to drive up revenues (this means finding more ways of providing value to society — see Harper and Van Hise for examples of great research universities being innovative and providing value).

via NSF report notes decline in state support for research universities | Inside Higher Ed.

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