SEATTLE — Public university presidents from across the nation are meeting this month to talk about replacing dwindling state support for their campuses with more dollars from the federal government.
Universities already get some federal funding — most notably for research — but University of Washington President Mark Emmert said in an interview Friday he believes it would be in the nation’s best interest for the federal government to get more involved in supporting the day-to-day needs of public research universities.
Emmert will host one of the five regional meetings the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities is convening. The others are in Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin and New Jersey.
Emmert didn’t have any details on how the federal government might get more involved in state universities, saying they were just beginning the conversation. He said it will take a collection of solutions to maintain the quality of higher education in this country; getting more money from the federal government is just one part.
State dollars built the nation’s public universities, but most legislatures have been cutting support for higher education to help balance state budgets during the recession. University presidents in Washington state say the Legislature uses the higher education budget as the state’s rainy day fund.
Emmert doubts state support for university budgets will improve anytime soon, and he believes this should be a national concern.
“Individual states are making these individual decisions, but across the whole country all of a sudden, this amazing asset that we have is eroding rapidly, and there’s no one looking at it from a systemic level at the national level,” Emmert said.
He compared the situation to individual states deciding they no longer want to maintain highways within their borders, but the whole country needs that interstate highway system.
“Collectively they supply the brain power for the whole nation,” Emmert said, noting that public universities produce most of the nation’s doctors, lawyers, engineers and research scientists.
The University of Texas meeting already took place. University presidents will meet at the University of Georgia in Athens on Wednesday, at the University of Washington in Seattle on April 26, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on April 28 and at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., on April 30.