Report: State research needs help
By Chris Williams
MINNEAPOLIS -- The state of Minnesota must increase higher-education funding if the University of Minnesota is to achieve its goal of being an elite research university, according to a new report.
The Legislature created the independent Commission on University of Minnesota Excellence in 2001 to examine the university's progress in five key research areas. The commission, which focused on the Twin Cities campus, reported back on Wednesday.
"The Commission notes with grave concern that Minnesota is no longer among the leaders in state financial support for higher education," the report said. "The historic pride that Minnesotans have taken in the value we place on higher education is at risk."
The report concluded that the university had done a good job developing programs for agricultural research and outreach, new media and design. Additional resources were needed for digital technology and molecular and cellular biology.
"We said, 'You are going pretty good. You are there in two or three of them and two of them you are going to need to spend some more money,"' said Douglas Leatherdale, the commission chair and former chief executive of the St. Paul Cos.
The Legislature considered those five areas to be vital to other research areas at the university and important to the economic development of the state.
The report generally concluded that the university's graduate and professional programs were "strong and competitive" but needed additional resources to compete for top-level students and faculty in the future.
The report came a day after the university announced it raised $526.6 million in grants and contracts for research during the 2001-02 school year, a nearly 6 percent increase from the previous year. Faculty and graduate researchers made nearly 5,000 applications for research grants.
In the report, the commissioners were less impressed with the university's undergraduate programs, particularly the caliber of incoming students and the low four-year graduation rate -- 27.3 percent for students who matriculated in 1997.
The commission reported that the university must focus its resources on those research areas by carefully budgeting its existing funds while continuing to solicit contributions from the private sector.
Also, the Legislature needs to increase direct funding for the university. The report states that Minnesota's support for higher education has lagged behind other states.
"People need to understand that this is a very important part of the economic engine in this state," Leatherdale said. "I wish people would understand that because it would allow the university to fare a little better in the annual competition for dollars over in St. Paul."