In July, Brady Deaton and R. Bowen Loftin were among 165 university chancellors and presidents representing all 50 states to address a letter to President Barack Obama and Congress asking that our national leaders improve funding to institutions of higher learning.
On Thursday, Mr. Loftin, formerly the president of Texas A&M University, was named the new chancellor of the University of Missouri in Columbia. He replaces Mr. Deaton, who had been chancellor since 2004.
The letter signed by Mr. Deaton and Mr. Loftin urges Congress to undo the harmful effects of the sequestration cuts, specifically in terms of its damage to research and development. It further pointed out that the U.S., once the world’s leader in higher education research, was in danger of falling behind other nations, creating what the university leaders call an “innovation deficit.”
“Our nation’s role as the world’s innovation leader is in serious jeopardy,” the university leaders wrote. “The combination of eroding federal investments in research and higher education, additional cuts due to sequestration, and the enormous resources other nations are pouring into these areas is creating a new kind of deficit for the United States: an innovation deficit.”
Here’s what the university leaders are talking about:
While U.S. investment in university research has stayed stagnant or, in some areas, declined, other countries are pouring huge percentages of their gross domestic product into research.
For example: Nine nations spend more on research and development as a percentage of overall government spending.
Between 2000 and 2008, research spending increased by 250 percent in South Korea and 330 percent in China. U.S. spending on research increased only 45 percent during that time, and as a percentage of the overall budget actually decreased.
Other countries are producing more young people with engineering and advanced science degrees than the U.S. is, and the result is a decreasing percentage of patents being awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to entities from the U.S.
As Mr. Loftin takes the reins at the state’s flagship land-grant university, he knows all of this.
Here’s what he also needs to know:
The problem is just as bad, or worse, when it comes to state funding. No matter how you define state support for higher education — per capita, per income, as a percentage of state budget — Missouri ranks near the bottom in every category.
In the same way as national funding has declined, state support for higher education has dropped as a percentage of state funding for two decades now. That means students and parents are bearing an increasingly higher burden of overall university costs.
Mr. Loftin is inheriting a university in which 60 percent of the operating costs come from tuition.
Two decades ago, when state lawmakers believed in the state’s commitment to higher education, that percentage was 25 percent.
“We call upon you to reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education,” the university leaders wrote in their July letter. “Only then can we ensure that our nation’s promise of a better tomorrow endures.”
It’s tremendous advice. Let’s hope Mr. Loftin’s voice amplifies the same call in the Missouri Capitol when the General Assembly returns for its 2014 session in January.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.