Declines in state funding for public research universities threatens to impair their ability to provide affordable education for new scientists and engineers, and to recruit top faculty and staff to perform high-quality research, according to a report released by the National Science Board (NSB)—the advisory body for the National Science Foundation.

The report was an expansion on the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, which examined 101 public research universities that were among the top recipients of academic research and development funding. Those universities award more than half of U.S. doctoral and a third of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, in addition to performing a substantial portion of basic research in those fields (greater than 50 percent in 2009). Those institutions also face declining state funding and rising college attendance.

State funding on a per-student basis at 101 major public research universities declined on average by 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2010, with some declines as high as 48 percent. Over the same time period, enrollment grew nationally by 13 percent. The decrease in state funding in conjunction with rising college attendance has resulted in public universities increasing student tuition in order to minimize the impact of funding cuts on research and teaching facilities. Between 1999 and 2009, revenue from tuition increased by 50 percent at public research universities.

The rising cost of education could have resounding consequences. According to a report by the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities, of the million minorities enrolled in research universities, 80 percent attend public institutions. José-Marie Griffiths, former NSB member and vice president for Academic Affairs at Bryant University, expressed concern over this trend: “[cuts and tuition hikes] could hinder large populations of students with limited financial means from pursuing science and engineering education at world-class institutions. We need the talent of all students from all backgrounds, and we need it nationwide.”

The NSB report additionally warned of a widening gap between public and private research universities, particularly in spending per full-time student and faculty salaries, both of which have grown much faster at private research universities.


back to Public Policy Reports

Bookmark and Share