[U]niversity research is in trouble, and so is an economy more dependent on it than many people understand. Federal funding for basic research—more than half of it conducted on university campuses like this one—has effectively declined since 2008, failing to keep pace with inflation. This is before we take into account Trump administration proposals to slash the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets by billions of dollars more.This is without taking account the ways in which the people running the flagship universities have aped the methods in use at the hundred or so institutions claiming to top the U.S. News league tables have been sticking their thumbs in the eyes of normal Americans.
In places like Columbus, Ohio, and Columbia, Missouri, the big research universities are among the most important institutions in town. The checkerboard patchwork of farms on the approach to Port Columbus International Airport gives way to office buildings housing high-tech companies spun off by Ohio State and the affluent suburbs where their employees live. The real estate company CBRE ranks the city as the country’s top small market for attracting tech talent.Yes, that's one of the hidden strengths of the country. But dig into the article, and you see what else is at work.
More than one in five graduate students who worked on sponsored research at eight Big Ten universities studied by Ohio State economist Bruce Weinberg, including Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, and Ohio State, stayed in the state where they attended school—13 percent of them within fifty miles of the campus. That may not sound like a lot—and, indeed, the exodus of highly educated people is a serious problem—but it’s significant when you consider that the jobs for these students exist in a national labor market. People with engineering PhDs from Minnesota could take their talents anywhere. If even 20 percent stick around, that’s a big win for states that can’t expect an influx of educated elites from other parts of the country. These graduates provide an educated workforce that employers need, create jobs themselves by starting their own businesses, and pay taxes.
Many of these same universities have suffered some of the nation’s deepest cuts to public higher education. Illinois reduced per-student spending by an inflation-adjusted 54 percent between 2008 and last year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The figure was 22 percent in Iowa and Missouri, 21 percent in Michigan, 15 percent in Minnesota and Ohio, and 6 percent in Indiana. While higher education funding increased last year in thirty-eight states, Scott Walker’s 2015–17 budget cut another $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system. The University of Iowa recently had its state appropriation cut by 6 percent, including an unexpected $9 million in the middle of the fiscal year.I repeat, as repeat I must, "higher education's Republican problem, or Trump problem, or whatever it is, is self-made."
The University of Missouri is eliminating about 400 employee positions, many through layoffs, after protests over race and other issues resulted in the resignations of the chancellor and system president and a major drop in enrollment. That decline, plus state budget cuts, will cost the school more than $31 million, though it hopes to make up some of that shortfall by increasing tuition.