States reduced per-student funding for major public research universities by a fifth during the past decade, while foreign competitors invested heavily to challenge the United States' once dominant global position in science, innovation, and higher education, according to new data publicly released today by the National Science Board (NSB).
State funding for the top 101 public research universities declined by 10 percent between 2002 and 2010, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Nearly three-quarters of the universities (72 of 101) experienced reductions in state funding. As a percentage of the universities' total revenue, state funding declined from 28 percent in 2001 to 19 percent in 2009. State funding for these institutions fluctuated between 2002 and 2010, "dipping in the early years and then rising until 2008 when it began to fall sharply."
While state funding declined, enrollments were growing. State funding per enrolled student at these research institutions dropped by 20 percent in constant dollars, going from $10,195 in 2002 to $8,157 in 2010. In 10 states, the decline ranged from 30 percent to 48 percent.
"Increasingly, governments around the world have come to regard movement toward a knowledge-based economy as key to economic progress," the NSB report said. To develop a "well-trained workforce, they have invested in upgrading and expanding their higher education systems and broadening participation."
"Following the two recessions that bookended the past decade, states had serious budget shortfalls," said Dr. Ray Bowen, Chairman of the NSB. "But the decline in support for postsecondary education, especially public research universities, is a cause for great concern as we examine the condition of U.S. global competitiveness."
Those were among the key findings released today by the NSB, the National Science Foundation's policymaking body, as it unveiled the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis on the nation's position in science and technology. The report highlights trends and factors that have an impact on the nation's competitiveness and capacity for innovation.
Asia Far Outpaces U.S. in Science and Engineering Degrees
The developed world's lead in higher education has declined dramatically as the number of students in developing countries earning science and engineering degrees has risen. In 2008, the U.S. produced only four percent of the world's engineering degrees, while 56 percent were awarded in Asia, including a third in China. About 30 percent of all university undergraduate degrees earned in China were in engineering.
In China, the number of natural science and engineering degrees rose from 280,000 to one million between 2000 and 2008. South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan alone produced 330,000 graduates in these fields in 2008, compared to 248,000 in the U.S., despite the U.S. having a population that is about 50 percent larger.
The number of natural sciences and engineering doctorates awarded by Chinese universities more than tripled since 2000. At 26,000 awarded in 2008, the number of these Chinese doctorates now exceeds the number earned in the United States.
And, unlike in China, a large share of these U.S. doctorate degrees are awarded to foreign students. In 2009, 44 percent of the 24,700 U.S. natural sciences and engineering doctorates were awarded to temporary visa holders. For engineering doctorates, 57 percent were awarded to foreign students.
Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, chairman of the NSB committee that oversees the production of the the report, noted that the low share of degrees granted in the U.S. is cause for concern, because science and engineering "higher education provides the advanced skills needed for a competitive workforce and, particularly, in the case of graduate-level S&E education, the research capability necessary for innovation."
Explore further: Best of Last Week: Acoustic phonons have magnetic properties, universe to collapse and bioclock disruption problem