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.

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One Comment

  1. 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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