the most mobile of commodities. Accordingly, few states make funding of
doctoral programs a priority.
But what is true for any one state is not true for the states collectively. If all
states economize on research university expenditures, there will not be enough
high level professionals produced, graduate educators will become scarce, and
innovation will suffer.
Having the locus of responsibility for funding research universities at the
state level worked well in 1862 when the Morrill Act was signed into law by
President Lincoln. Transportation was poor and communication was slow and
expensive. At that time, if a state wanted the benefits brought by a research
university, it had to invest in building and maintaining one within its own
Federalism devolved the responsibility for higher education to the states at
this time, an appropriate decision. But today’s high speed transmission of
information and high mobility of people and capital make the state locus of
responsibility for funding research universities quite problematic.
How does one convince states to behave in a manner that is responsive to the
good of the whole nation? How do you convince them not to be free-riders? This
question is critical because the states still supply 50 percent of the funding for
educational programs at research universities.
That the federal government understands this problem is evident in the
requirement that Congress embedded in the stimulus funding package that
states maintain their higher education funding effort at least at the 2006 level in
order to qualify for the education portion of these funds. Similar maintenance-
of-effort provisions are embedded in other legislation.
But the downward course taken by state higher education appropriations
over time demonstrates that such requirements have not stemmed state
Perhaps some state will find that funding research universities better will
pay dividends for its citizens. Universities ought to be building this case and
supplying data to demonstrate how past investments have paid off.
While we must not give up on the efforts to restore state funding, I am not
optimistic that such efforts will succeed in time to avert further serious damage.
It is time for the larger collective, the United States, to step forward and assume
more of the responsibility for research university funding.
I note that other countries have come to the understanding that research
The Future of the US Research University
C O N T I N U E D
FEBRUARY 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC