The Decline of the Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens to Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies

from The Atlantic

Four floors above a dull cinder-block lobby in a nondescript building at the Ohio State University, the doors of a slow-moving elevator open on an unexpectedly futuristic 10,000-square-foot laboratory bristling with technology. It’s a reveal reminiscent of a James Bond movie. In fact, the researchers who run this year-old, $750,000 lab at OSU’s Spine Research Institute resort often to Hollywood comparisons.

Thin beams of blue light shoot from 36 of the same kind of infrared motion cameras used to create lifelike characters for films like Avatar. In this case, the researchers are studying the movements of a volunteer fitted with sensors that track his skeleton and muscles as he bends and lifts. Among other things, they say, their work could lead to the kind of robotic exoskeletons imagined in the movie Aliens.

The cutting-edge research here combines the expertise of the university’s medical and engineering faculties to study something decidedly commonplace: back pain, which affects as many as eight out of every 10 Americans, accounts for more than 100 million annual lost workdays in the United States alone, and has accelerated the opioid addiction crisis.

“The growth of the technology around us has become so familiar that we don’t question where it comes from,” says Bruce McPheron, an entomologist and the university’s executive vice president and provost, looking on. “And where it happens consistently is at a university.”

More here.


3 Responses to The Decline of the Midwest’s Public Universities Threatens to Wreck Its Most Vibrant Economies

  1. Shiyun Ye November 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm #

    Universities are the most common place for teenagers to explore their interest in different areas such as music, art, even more importantly, science and technology. These days there are so many fancy inventions brought to the real world by university kids that really impress the public. Therefore, the funding supported to the university technology program seems very considerable based on the progress these days. However, according to researches, university 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 taking into account Trump administration proposals to slash the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets by billions of dollars more.
    Trump’s cuts would affect all research universities, but not equally. The problem is more pronounced at public universities than private ones, and especially at public institutions in the Midwest, which have historically conducted some of the nation’s most important research. Due to this reason, it is harder for those departments to hold investigations and researchers for student’s interests anymore. The stuff in those Midwest universities “are amazing that [they] can keep it together by cutting everywhere they can.” However, another problem appears as these universities start to lose some of their very best people. It is their very best faculty that get outside offers. Those retention issues have a real impact because those are the people who can bring in millions in research funding, and the people you replace them with bring in much less. It increases the risk of investing in programs with less money.
    Therefore, with a much less budget involved, universities are hard to prepare intelligent and big science programs anymore. This accounts for a less involvement rate from students in the research and science programs as they cannot come up with their best ideas been applied since it cost a lot of money due to numerous failures occurred. It will affect not only the student willingness to join these programs, but also the willingness for these talented students to go into college even. They can get offer in a big company and the money they need easily instead of staying in a college without enough sponsorship.
    Moreover, when the university’s quality in researching area is decreased, its reputation overall will gets down. With today’s increasing rate of college apply data, these universities will lack of the ability in competing among the east universities who has more students and more financial aids coming from other resources. This phenomenon can even affect the Midwest economy, as there will not be enough talents willing to settle or work in the area. Therefore, even the overall budget is decreased, the province government and the university really should keep what they are doing right now – do their best in gathering more sponsorship as they can and create more activities for their students to participate in more outside competitions to gain their own funding as well.

  2. Nathaniel B February 2, 2018 at 3:03 pm #

    This is an interesting article that brings into relevance an idea that is very possible, yet probably not on many people’s minds. Wealthy, private universities such as Princeton or Harvard with a massive endowments up to nearly 40 billion, do not have to worry about cuts to their vital academic or research programs. Large, public Midwestern schools however, do seem to be receiving massive budget cuts to their research programs. This is terrible because as a college student, my biggest resource for research would be my university. I can imagine many students suffering from this as well as researchers who spend their time discovering vital cures and new technologies.
    Universities in the Midwestern region that this article is focusing on show clear signs of decline. For example, the University of Wisconsin was a top 2 school in research in 2008 and has now fallen out of the top 5, probably as a direct result of budget cuts. Likewise, Ohio State has fell from 10 to 20th in the research field. Massive innovations in technology have come out of Midwestern public universities such as internet browsing, human stem cells, deadly viruses cures, and more. By cutting the funding, or even just by decreasing it, we will surely fall behind on what would be future technology and biomedical testing.
    This could present issues for much more than just the research output and quality. If the university funding, and overall quality suffers, it will not only hurt the school itself but the surrounding community. As a former student at Indiana University, I know how the university is the central hub of the town and its main source of income. Many college towns rely almost entirely on the school’s athletics, and student body for their income. This is why they are so often referred to as “college towns”. If the college campuses decline in numbers, I believe it will have a direct impact on the economy of the surrounding towns in many of these Midwestern, slightly isolated locations.
    While it is understandable that President Trump is looking for places to cut back and save money in order to be able to reduce taxes, I do not believe this is an appropriate field to do so. The research coming out of these universities is far too important to tamper with and should be left alone to allow for further discoveries.

  3. Ryan Mack February 20, 2018 at 8:36 pm #

    For many in this country today, college is expensive. The average cost of attending a private or out-of-state university for the 2017-2018 school year was $50,900 and the average cost of attending an in-state college was $25,290. Colleges and universities aren’t just expensive for students to attend though, it also cost the schools a large amount of money to operate, especially in funding research that develops and improves the technologies much of the country is reliant on. Advances in computer science that had begun at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign include the first modern web browser called Mosaic, PLATO-which stands for Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations-that included early versions of instant messaging, multiplayer games, and touch screens, all things we practically take for granted today. This research is in a decline, at least in public universities in the Midwest, due to funding issues with the state legislature. Private schools or public schools with more access to funding and endowments are able to continue and evolve their research, far surpassing schools like Ohio State, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois. The funding issue is not only at the state level, but also comes from federal spending cuts. According to an article by the Atlantic, federal funding for basic research, which more than half of is conducted on university campuses, has declined since 2008. This issue is further ailed by the Trump administration’s proposals to reduce funding to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by billions of dollars. These cuts would primarily affect public universities as opposed to private ones. Private institutions have more resources to fall back on from large endowments, generous donations from wealthy alumni, high tuition, and better credit, while the universities of Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio lag behind and have had their credit ratings been downgraded by Moody’s to junk bond ratings. Universities conduct more than half of all basic research done in America, and publicly funded research universities make up two-thirds of the $63.7 billion spent by the federal government every year on research. Public colleges are also struggling to keep faculty because of the lack of necessary funds, losing them to either layoffs or to other institutions. Many of those who left cite salary and pension as the reasons for taking the other job offers. Illinois has a pension problem, similar to that of New Jersey and 46 of the 50 states have spent less per student compared to 2008 and to make up for it, some of these school’s plan to raise tuition.

    This is a difficult situation to get out of, since schools like Ohio State can’t just pack up and move to another state like a corporation can. Many of the things these schools are working on including the University of Wisconsin’s stem cell research, and the University of Iowa’s Virtual Soldier Research Program and National Advanced Driving Simulator as well as cures for Ebola, West Nile, brain cancer, back pain, and antibiotic resistance are all very essential to the advancement and in a way survival of society. I feel that it is essential that these things dealing with defense and healthcare are kept in development, because if they aren’t other countries like China will surpass us and its possible our quality of life may drop or we won’t be prepared should an emergency happen. Research and development is important to the entire U.S. economy and population and many are dependent on the technology it develops and/or improves, and maybe there should be some way that they are privately funded or invested in. Cutting spending on things like social welfare could help, considering the federal government spent roughly $1.03 trillion on 80+ federal welfare programs in 2011. And political corruption within state governments that contribute to pension problems and funding for students don’t help mitigate the problem either, in fact it does the complete opposite. The way by which the schools are trying to make up the public money cutbacks, by raising tuition, will make it more expensive for students to attend, in a way also affecting another significant issue facing education and the economy today, the student loan crisis. In sum, for public universities, especially in the Midwest, it comes down to government and politics which can never seem to make great progress, only inhibit it.

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