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Higher-ed leaders say this is the future of research universities


During the keynote, Hrabowski explained that federal spending on university research flowed in the years after World War II, and basic research was fueled in the 1950s and ’60s by the Cold War and the space race. There was another surge around the turn of the century when the U.S. budget was in strong shape and lawmakers poured money into the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But since then, funding has slowed. According to the Washington Post’s analysis of National Science Foundation (NSF) data on federal basic research spending at universities, the trend line over the past few years (in inflation-adjusted dollars) is this:

2009: $18.2 billion

2010: $17.3 billion

2011: $15.7 billion

2012: $15.7 billion

2013: $15.5 billion

2014: $16.3 billion

New ways to garner support

According to Hrabowski, based on his own initiatives with UMBC, as well as the ideas presented as part of the Internet2 summit, there are three innovative ways to consider gaining support and funding for research institutions; all of which are based on the idea of inclusiveness:

1. Create better long-term partnerships.

“When I talk to other leaders about this problem, I like to ask them what their response is to the question of ‘Why should I give additional funding?’ What do they say? How do they differ their message to different groups?” said Hrabowski. “Many long-term partnerships are hard to secure because the language isn’t there.”

New language, he explained, is about communicating to businesses, but also to communities, why investing in basic and applied research can directly benefit the local and global economy.

“Clear language needs to be used when describing what the outcomes of this research can do to serve the public and private sectors,” he noted. “It’s healthcare, defense and competitiveness. Use language that goes beyond how funding directly benefits the institution to how it benefits the community and our country.”

2. Use IT like a corporation.

“Using IT effectively for your campus services and operations at an enterprise-level shows business corporations that your institution is paving the way of the future,” said Hrabowski. “Universities interested in securing funding from business must be adaptable and look to how corporations are using tech.”

Part of using technology like corporations, he explained, is by rethinking timelines and deadlines for implementation and updates.

“Another way of using IT to gain community support is by using technology that connects communities, like the way Internet2 is using technology to connect higher-ed institutions to each other and to people. Any time you can use IT in ways that connect your campus community to other campuses, or your campus community to each other and the local community, do it,” he said.

3. Broaden the pipeline.

“Did you know that it’s the students with the highest SAT scores, with the highest AP science scores, that go to the most prestigious colleges and universities, that are the students most likely to drop out of STEM after freshman year?” he asked. “It’s because these institutions call freshman STEM classes ‘weed-out’ classes. Now tell me: How can we expect these students down the line to support us when we ask for R&D funding?”

Hrabowski emphasized that garnering support for research universities begins with the institutions own students, as well as students a university might not typically consider.

“In the 1940s, college presidents fought against the GI Bill because they thought if veterans were allowed to attend their institution, it would become a den of lazy hippies failing courses. But the bill passed, and these veterans turned out to be some of the institution’s brightest. Today’s research universities must look to minorities and underserved students and discover ways to support them in their dreams.”

He concluded that only when research universities support a wide-range of students, and therefore show communities this investment into building a better future for all people, will research universities have a secure future as well.