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Funding the U: The investment in our students and our state is well worth it

Author Shantal Pai

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.

Invaluable outcomes

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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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by John Smith on 03/02/2018 - 11:24 pm.

    Issues with U of M funding

    Shantal,

    Let’s clear the air a bit. Speaking as a libertarian, who knows and is active within the larger conservative/libertarian community, it is not the funding of research or the maintenance of buildings that GOP lawmakers object to.

    What GOP lawmakers here in Minnesota, as well as many other states (see Tennessee for a great recent example) object to is the funding of decidedly liberal/progressive institutions on campuses and the overall political leanings of faculty. If GOP lawmakers believed that administrators, campus bureaucrats, and professors were being politically neutral they wouldn’t be getting involved. Instead, they see things like Ben Shapiro being exiled to the St Paul campus because the administration was to chick to actually punish students who broke the rules.

    Instead of neutral research, they see people like Judith Curry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Curry) leaving the Academy because of peer pressure and group-think pushing them out. They see scientists like Michael Mann suing journalists who write disparaging articles about them. They see an attempt by many, across a broad array of issues, to stifle and shut down debate on topics that are highly political in the name of “science.” But science isn’t about quashing debate – it is about taking criticism head on, answering it, and rebutting it. It isn’t about shaming your critics or calling them “paid shills” for X industry.

    Instead of neutral administration, they see administrators reacting to whatever fad is trending on twitter that day. They see long-standing institutions being attacked, students deprived of due process, and reputations ruined. They see a stampede to become as “diverse” as possible – at least regarding physical aspects. But when it comes to scientific or religious opinions may God help someone at odds with the twitterverse and popular progressive thought.

    That is why legislatures around the country are “attacking” universities for the first time in American history. Up until 15ish years ago, the University was a place of academic rigor that avoided choosing sides in political battles. That has since changed, and the change started at the University level. Until the University is willing (and able) to regain its position as a non-political actor that seeks the truth – however uncomfortable or upsetting that truth may be – they will continue to lose the public trust.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/03/2018 - 12:20 pm.

      John Smith’s issues

      “What GOP lawmakers here in Minnesota object to is the funding of decidedly liberal/progressive institutions . . . That is why legislatures around the country are ‘attacking’ universities for the first time in American history.”

      Please . . . YOU may see things that way, but the reason the GOP has been attacking higher education funding (and shifting it onto student’s backs) is all about adhering to their delusional conservative ideology, the core of which is, “Not a penny more!” in taxes at any time for any thing.

      That, of course, creates the “urgent need” to cut cut cut spending in order to adhere to the pledge they made to Grover Norquist (talk about group-think) to never raise taxes and always cut spending in order to “Starve the Beast!” (The non-profit Beast . . . Never the for-profit Beast which MUST be fed as much taxpayer money as possible!)

      “They see long-standing institutions being attacked, students deprived of due process, and reputations ruined.”

      You don’t mention anything specific, but could you be talking about efforts to be responsive to and provide as much safety as possible for young women who step forward to say they were sexually abused or raped on of near campus by other students? . . . If so, what do you suggest as the remedy for the travesty you see?

      Or maybe you were talking about some other “gross violation” of whatever your personal and political code may be. But if so, SAY so. What “long-standing institutions” are you talking about and how are they being “attacked”? Which students are being deprived of “due process” and how are their reputations being ruined?

      “They see a stampede to become as ‘diverse’ as possible – at least regarding physical aspects.”

      Again: Are you talking about educational institutions “bringing in” too many people of African descent? Too many Pre-American, indigenous people? Too many people of Mexican, Latin or Asian descent? Too many non-White people, maybe? Is that what “physical aspects” means? Or are you talking about an imbalanced proportion of tall, short, overweight or overly-thin people or too much red, brown, black or blond hair, or what?

      Please . . . Speak English.

      “But when it comes to scientific or religious opinions may God help someone at odds with the twitterverse and popular progressive thought.”

      Same story . . . Are you able to read English?

      I ask because I didn’t see anything in Ms Pai’s piece that mentioned — or even hinted at — anything having to do with those things. Which scientific opinions or religious views did YOU see her expressing that may be at odds with yours or anyone else’s, in the twitterverse or beyond?

      As far as that goes, aside from your (dubious) opening idea that the reason the U of M’s funding is being attacked is . . . “liberal indoctrination” . . . nothing in your comment addressed anything Ms Pai had to say.

      Take this paragraph, for example:

      “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.”

      Please explain . . . What in that do you see as the kind of “popular progressive thought” that is deserving of GOP (or any other) attack?

      Being provided with what she’ll need to have a strong career in an area she enjoys and feels strongly about? An area in which the education she’s acquiring via the UMN system will enable her to help others (farmers, people who eat, those involved in any area of our state’s sizable ag economy) for many years to come?

      The university opening similar doors for other young people who want to do the same kind of thing in the other fields she mentioned?

      Are you opposed to the U’s impact on many young people being “life-changing”?

      Do you, libertarians, the GOP disagree that the U’s impact on the entire state is invaluable?

      And what do you think about what Ms Pai had to say about this?

      “Every dollar put into the U is an investment, one that provides 13-fold dividends back to our state’s economy.”

      Too “liberal”? Too “progressive”? Evidence of the need for even STRONGER attack by libertarians, the GOP, the voters of Minnesota.

      Like I say, it’s hard to say because you didn’t say . . . All you seemed to say is that even if everything Ms Pai had to say is true it doesn’t matter to you, libertarians or the GOP because, by God, the University of Minnesota, its funding and its students, DESERVE to be attacked because, in all of your enlightened opinion, it is a “decidedly liberal/progressive institution.”

  2. Submitted by Jay Davis on 03/03/2018 - 01:06 pm.

    Economic impact studies – how are they useful?

    “Every dollar put into the U is an investment, one that provides 13-fold dividends back to our state’s economy. ”

    Consumers of economic impact analyses could benefit from understanding the difference between an economic impact analysis versus a cost-benefit analysis. In introductory macroeconomics, students learn about the multiplier effect in which a thousand dollars paid to an individual or firm (or university) leads to a large number of subsequent transactions. We could pay the author of this commentary $1000 and she could go out and spend it in the economy. The recipients (such as the local cafe, or Target) then go out and spend the money again buying things such as food, paying rent, any buying medical care. . And all of those recipients then go out and spend the money they receive. What limits the multiplier effect so that the $1000 doesn’t have an INFINITE effect (rather than a 13-fold effect) on the Minnesota economy is that some money leaks out into consumption in other states and countries. So is a thirteen fold effect large or small? Is the University of Minnesota a very good or a so-so investment? The findings from a single economic impact analysis don’t help inform policy analysis.

    By the way, the same Tripp-Umback company that generates these econ impact figures recently reported that the University of Washington has more than a $12 billion impact on their state economy, which makes Minneosta’s impact of $8.6 million look anemic. What should legislators do with this information? Not clear.

  3. Submitted by Sarah Huerta on 03/05/2018 - 10:48 am.

    Clarifying U of M’s impact

    Just clarifying previous statement of the $8.6 million impact… It’s actually $8.6 billion.
    https://government-relations.umn.edu/sites/government-relations.umn.edu/files/university_of_minnesota_impact_study_final_report_2-16op.pdf

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