Decreases in higher education funding have affected the ability of public universities to do research, according to a recent National Science Board study.
This study noted between 2002 and 2010, state per-student funding has decreased by an average of 20 percent among 101 public universities in the country.
Ten states in the nation experienced cuts that ranged between 30 percent and 48 percent, the study said.
Although Wisconsin is not on that list, Gov. Scott Walker has since made extensive cuts to the University of Wisconsin system over the 2011-2013 biennium.
Walker cut $250 million from the UW system for the current biennium, which was among the highest cuts made in the nation.
The National Science Board said in a statement it is concerned about the threat the decline in state funding poses for public research universities, saying it “is likely to result in an ongoing increase in tuition and fees.”
UW Vice Chancellor Vince Sweeney said it is always very competitive to get research grants, and the significant cuts to higher education over the years have made a noticeable impact on the university’s ability to get research grants.
Sweeney said what he called the competence and excellence of the UW staff has helped to offset these cuts.
“The university has some wonderful researchers who work very hard for research dollars,” Sweeney said. “They will continue to work hard to gain knowledge to further their respective fields.”
UW sociology and educational policy studies professor Adam Gamoran said he agreed the education cuts have harmed the university’s ability to competitively seek grants for research.
Gamoran added the resilience of staff and faculty in continuing to get grants for research is impressive.
“Wisconsin is still third in the country in terms of external grants for research, despite the cuts,” Gamoran said. “It is the students that have paid the price because of the significant decrease in financial aid.”
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said any time cuts are made there will be negative effects.
Mikalsen stressed education is the single largest expenditure for the state budget, adding it accounts for 40 percent of the state budget. Mikalsen said because education was receiving so much funding already, it took the biggest cut proportionally.
“Wisconsin simply did not have the money to be putting so much into education,” Mikalsen said. “The budget needed to be cut in all areas.”
He also said when Walker came into office, he was confronted with a budget that was too big for the amount of money the state had, so making extensive cuts was necessary.
Mikalsen added whether money is reinvested into education will depend on how the federal government handles its own debt.
“If the federal debt does not improve, the states will be forced to make deeper cuts in order to make do with less federal aid,” Mikalsen said. “In the last few months, the economy has been deteriorating. Rep. Nass wants to avoid the state making deeper cuts to education, but no guarantees can be made at this point.”