During my time at the University of Minnesota, I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about the U. Some of them — like the idea that the U only serves the Twin Cities area — are easily dispelled by facts. Others are more deep-seated stigmas about the value of higher education; some people have questioned whether the U is still worth the cost. As a scientist, researcher and an undergraduate student, I want to put these misconceptions to rest. Funding the university is a valuable investment in our state and students.
I’m currently in my senior year studying plant science and political science. For the past three years I’ve researched agricultural production, focusing on ways to measure the benefit of more efficient production practices. The resources at the U — with researchers and scientists working across Minnesota, not to mention the physical spaces for research — have allowed me to conduct in-depth and interesting research, even as an undergraduate. I’ve compiled data on corn and soybean production across the country to calculate how much more farmers could grow if we provided them with increased access to the newest tools available at universities. I’ve also worked for the USDA at a research and outreach center to figure out how to stop the spread of a devastating fungal pathogen of soybean, and I’ve done field research for Land O’Lakes, trying to develop more efficient research methods for the company.
A four-year education at the U has set me up for a strong career in plant sciences. Already, I have seen the ways in which my individual work contributes to our state as a whole, and when I come across fellow students throughout the UMN system, I hear similar stories. This university opens doors for students who want to be our state’s future teachers, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians, agronomists, business people, policymakers, attorneys or researchers. The U’s impact on students like me is life-changing. But the U’s impact on the state as a whole through the outcomes of the research is invaluable.
Research is an inherently collaborative process. Student work relies on data and knowledge from others in the field — whether it’s finding out information about soybean production yields in rural Minnesota or learning more about the spread of diseases. Fortunately, we have direct access to data from research labs in every part of Minnesota and experts in virtually every field. At the U, I have a world of knowledge at my fingertips.
In addition to research, I spend a great deal of time advocating for students across the UMN system as a student senator. Students at every one of our campuses are connected — the decisions made by our legislative and university leaders affect students throughout Minnesota.
The U truly is a statewide institution, which requires support from legislators statewide. With five campuses and numerous research and outreach centers across Minnesota, funding the U is an expensive investment. The U has proposed over $200 million just to maintain and repair vital infrastructure, including the facilities and labs that researchers like me work in. But the costs are well worth it. Every dollar put into the U is an investment, one that provides 13-fold dividends back to our state’s economy. The U’s capital request is a relatively small investment for the $8.6 billion that the U generates in economic activity every year.
Effects of underfunding
Underfunding the U means underfunding everything the U does for Minnesota. Cuts affect things like extension spending, making it harder to disseminate research findings. Budgets to hire professors also get cut, leaving students with fewer options to participate in research and take courses that fit their schedule. When the University of Minnesota is underfunded, buildings are neglected, leaving even less room to meet increased demand. Without enough state funding, scholarship resources decrease, making it harder for the U to attract students who may not be able to attend college without assistance. These funding cuts make it even harder for the university to serve our state.
Funding goes directly to the facilities, labs and buildings that allow researchers to do their work — these are the basic tools we need to find solutions to our most pressing problems. Funding supports the scientists and researchers who are driving our state forward today, and the generation of students who will do it tomorrow.
When it comes to investing in our university and our state, I want to make sure we consider all the evidence: the U’s impact on students at all five campuses, researchers in every field, and communities in every corner of our state. The findings couldn’t be clearer: Funding the university is worth it.
Shantal Pai is a senior at the University of Minnesota.
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