Why Public Research Universities Are Struggling

Higher education enrollment downturns, federal funding predictions, and how U.S. global competitiveness could be at risk.

For a growing number of public universities, particularly in the midwest, what was once a push for academic excellence is now more like a battle for survival, as detailed by The Hechinger Report’s Jon Marcus in a new piece for Washington Monthly. What happened? Enrollment drops, funding cuts and shifting public attitudes toward higher education. As a result, key research — the kind that led to inventions from open-heart surgery to  the World Wide Web  – are at risk.  Also endangered are America’s ability to compete internationally for top students in fields like medicine, engineering and computer science.

What does this mean for local economies in places like Columbia, Missouri, which depend on its public university to drive the local economy? How are cost-saving measures like trimming faculty tenure protections and eliminating programs impacting students’ college experiences at schools like Ohio State or the University of Minnesota? And how might President Trump’s proposed budget worsen those woes? Cuts to federal research funding, for example, could cause additional pain for the schools, since public public universities get 60 percent of the federal research budget of $63.7 billion. Marcus also offers story ideas for local higher ed reporters, including how to find and use readily available data sets on public universities’ fiscal health.

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