Alvin P. Sanoff
before the economy began to stall, many states were spending less
on higher education, forcing engineering schools to rely more on
research dollars. Will teaching suffer as the belt-tightening continues?
schools at public universities around the nation are entering a
period of belt-tightening as states faced with a sputtering economy
cut back on higher-education expenditures. We can look for
tough times in the next year or two, says Nino Masnari, dean
of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University.
Carolina, and Alabama provide an early warning of what engineering
schools in a number of states can look forward to should the economy
continue on a downward trajectory. Over the past five years, the
higher-education budget in Ohio has, on average, increased by 5.6
percent a year, according to an Illinois State University study.
But because tax revenues in this fiscal year have fallen short of
projections, growth in state support has been trimmed to 2 percent
and the outlook for the next fiscal year is, at best, more of the
dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Ohio's
Miami University, says the less-than-expected increase in state
support puts in jeopardy ambitious plans to double enrollment in
his school over the next five to seven years. Our success,
he explains, depends on a constant stream of state money.
Dollar is especially
worried about his ability to recruit faculty members, because money
for salaries comes primarily from state funds. Many engineering
schools face fierce competition from the private sector when hiring
Ph.D.'s in such hot fields as computer engineering. Private
industry can offer candidates on the order of $100,000, far above
what Miami can afford under the best of circumstances. If
we don't get significant increases from the state our ability
to attract good faculty will be diminished, says Dollar.
In North Carolina,
Masnari was faced with a midyear budget reduction of 1.9 percent
resulting from revenue shortfalls. As a consequence, he has had
to delay new initiatives and defer planned maintenance. While the
impact thus far has been modest, Masnari worries that if the economic
picture gets worse and requires additional budget reductions, it
could have a significant negative impact on North Carolina
that deans in Ohio and North Carolina are grappling with seem manageable
compared with those faced by deans in Alabama, where the governor
has put into effect a 6.2 percent reduction in education funding
for the remainder of this fiscal year. A similar reduction is expected
next year. At the University of Alabama at Huntsville's College
of Engineering, the cutback has meant a freeze on all hiring and
on purchasing equipment, including such basics as computers. Jorge
Auñón, dean of the college, says that technology
is advancing very fast and if you don't have the computers
to do the job then you are at a serious disadvantage. Auñón
says that the budget cutbacks will likely lead to increased tuition
and there is even the possibility of faculty pay cuts, especially
if a pending lawsuit forces the state to rescind reductions that
were made in state funding for grades K-12.
in some states have already gone under the knife, engineering programs
in Oregon, South Carolina, and a number of other states are awaiting
possible surgery. Thomas Keinath, dean of the College of Engineering
and Science at Clemson University in South Carolina, says there
is talk of cutting the state budget by anywhere from 8 to 12 percent.
But, he adds, our president is insistent on us moving forward
to advance the stature of Clemson and he is focused on minimizing
the budget cut's impact on the academic side. To offset
cuts, the university would raise tuition. That would leave
us intact, says Keinath.
anticipated cuts in basic state support for higher education may
be partially offset by special funding for engineering and computer
science programs. The budget now under consideration by the legislature
contains a $20 million appropriation to enhance engineering and
computer science programs. Ronald Adams, dean of the College of
Engineering at Oregon State University, says that this line-item
appropriationa substantial portion of which would go to Oregon
Statereflects the governor's goal of doubling the
number of engineering and computer science graduates in Oregon over
the next five years and his desire to establish a top-tier engineering
school in the state by 2010. Oregon State has been chosen
to be that top-tier school. Still, Adams worries that if shortfalls
in tax revenues lead to a substantial cutback in basic state support,
that could reduce some of the benefits the school would reap from
the special funding for engineering and computer science programs.
the economy began to head downward, many states were taking a more
conservative posture toward funding higher education. More than
half the states allocated fewer new dollars for higher education
in the current fiscal year than they had the year before, according
to data collected by the Center for the Study of Education Policy
at Illinois State University. Even in states where funding in recent
years has kept pace with or exceeded the rate of inflation, state
dollars have accounted for a shrinking proportion of the operating
funds of engineering schools. State support has gone down,
down, down, says Richard Miksad, dean of the School of Engineering
and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. Today, revenue
from state taxes accounts for only 5 percent of Miksad's budget.
At the University of Texas at Austin, state support accounted for
about 40 percent of the budget 15 years ago, but that figure has
dropped to about 25 percent today. Deans at a number of engineering
schools say that because state funds account for a declining proportion
of their budgets, they now consider their universities state-assisted
rather than state-supported institutions.
Shifting the Burden
No longer able
to depend as much on state support, engineering schools are becoming
increasingly reliant on research money. Essentially, the discretionary
money to invest in faculty travel, laboratory improvements and the
like has to come from research support because the state doesn't
give us what we need, says William Swart, dean of the College
of Engineering and Technology at Virginia's Old Dominion University.
Some in academia
worry that the time spent raising research dollars means that faculty
have less time to devote to their students. Wallace Fowler, ASEE
president and an engineering professor at the University of Texas
at Austin, says that schools depend on faculty to get grants
and contracts. When you do that you are selling your time and effort,
and then people wonder why faculty members don't spend as much
time in the classroom. Adds Lyle Feisel, dean of the Thomas
J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SUNY Binghamton:
We have over the years moved toward a faculty who are in the
business more for research than for teaching and, as that happens,
undergraduate programs are not receiving the emphasis you would
like them to have.
Income from donors' gifts provides another vital revenue stream
for public engineering schools unable to win more funds from their
states. Raising outside funds from donors has become as important
at public universities as it has been at privates, says Dean
Ben Streetman of the University of Texas at Austin. We have
established a number of endowed chairs that supplement salaries
beyond what the state provides. Without such an infusion of
private funds, say deans, it would be far more difficult to retain
and recruit highly qualified faculty members.
and donor gifts could become even more important to public engineering
schools over the next few years if the economy shrinks and there
are moreand largercutbacks in state funding. The prospect
of even less support from their states worries deans. Says Virginia's
Miksad: You mess around with the public higher-education system
and you are messing around with the whole future of the country.
P. Sanoff is a freelance writer living in suburban Washington, D.C.