Three great Michigan universities are driving innovation. Why is funding still flagging?

The University Research Corridor – an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – is one of the nation’s leading academic research clusters, and a driving force for Michigan’s economy. Our leadership and the economic benefits of our success are a proven winning formula that will produce future benefits for all Michigan residents with stronger investment from our state. Each year, our institutions generate a combined $16.5 billion in revenue, which is 19 times the state’s funding for the URC universities.

A recent URC report, titled “Leading Discovery: URC Contributions to the Life, Medical and Health Sciences,” examines the URC’s success in providing health care, creating jobs, producing world-class talent and driving the economy in this important sector for our state. The report underscores this innovative sector’s significant impact on Michigan – and our national status -- finding that the URC ranks first among all peer clusters in talent development, awarding more than 44,400 degrees in the life, medical and health sciences in 2015.

To be able to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, drive innovation, remain competitive and continuously improve the health and well-being of Michiganders, URC institutions must be funded at an appropriate level on a consistent basis over time. Failure to invest will result in Michigan falling behind other states that have implemented long term strategies that are yielding results.

Lou Anna K. Simon, top, is president of Michigan State University; Mark Schlissel, center, is president of the University of Michigan, and M. Roy Wilson, bottom, is president of Wayne State University.

In 2001, Nebraska began investing tobacco settlement funds into a Biomedical Research Fund that is still producing jobs and follow-on funding for the state. The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a partnership between research universities and the state’s Department of Economic Development, has driven $3.8 billion in investment, launched more than 150 companies and created more than 6,000 highly skilled jobs. Our own state has supported R&D investments in the past. In 1999, the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor program was launched as a $1 billion, 20-year ($50 million/year) focus on establishing Michigan as a center of life sciences research and innovation. By 2002 however, the annual appropriation for the MLSC began to decline due to a slowdown in the economy and the Tobacco Settlement Funds that funded the corridor were diverted to other areas of the budget.

Now 18 years later, while other states are benefitting from their long-term investments in research universities, we in Michigan have vacillated between making significant, strategic investments that would mark Michigan as a leader, and diluting our efforts, leaving Michigan vulnerable to competition.

Our research universities still haven’t been restored to 2011 state funding levels, before Gov. Snyder cut higher education funding by 15 percent. This is despite the URC’s impressive return on investment.

Even with the recent Michigan House-Senate conference committee’s decision to grant the state's 15 public universities an average 2 percent increase, funding for the URC universities remains below 2011 levels. Had 2011 funding levels simply been increased at the rate of inflation, URC institutions would have $96.6 million more funding than proposed for the coming fiscal year. The URC institutions, along with Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University, are the only universities that have not been fully restored.

One in eight Michigan jobs (533,000) is in this sector, and it has been a stabilizing force for the Michigan economy, particularly during the Great Recession. Employment in this sector has grown by 18.9 percent since 2000 when all other private sector employment in the state declined by 9.3 percent. And the life, medical and health sciences sector continues to grow, with more than 21,000 jobs added between 2011 and 2015.

The report also found the URC conducted $1.2 billion in academic research and development in the health sciences in 2015, representing 95 percent of all academic R&D in the sector in Michigan. The URC institutions enable Michigan to compete with other states, ranking 11th among all states in total academic R&D expenditures in the life, medical and health sciences. Michigan can and must do better. It is time to re-invest in key strategic assets, including our world-class research universities, if we hope to remain competitive with other states that have made a commitment to funding academic research.

The URC is one of the few places in the world with the capability and capacity to contribute to the next great scientific discovery that will improve human health and well-being. Just imagine what could be accomplished if Michigan made a commitment to funding these incredible assets and fully investing in the potential of our state.

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Kevin Grand
Fri, 08/18/2017 - 1:14pm

U of M is sitting on a $9.7-billion endowment as of 2016.

MSU is sitting on a over a $2.2-billion endowment (also as of 2016)

Wayne State is sitting on nearly $300-million (as of 2015).

I'd say that Michigan Taxpayers have "committed" far more than enough funding as it is already if they can accumulate that much already.

If these institution cannot (will not?) find a way to successfully monetize the results from all of this research (over $16-billion isn't exactly pocket change), or from other sources like athletics, to fund this wish list posted above, then I seriously question the ability (desire?) of them to actually operate efficiently.

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 2:53pm

Particularly fascinating is MSU's reaction to E. Lansing imposing a city income tax on its residents and in city workers including MSU employees. Normally you can count on all the U's to support any and every tax increase that comes along, but when that tax hits them? NO way!!!

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 9:53am

Those are funds for capital improvement. Not operating dollars. Try thinking big.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 08/21/2017 - 3:18pm

I can "think big" with the money I have earned, thank you very much.

Why can't these institutes of higher learning do the same?

Mike Watza
Sun, 08/20/2017 - 9:50am

And...when we as taxpayers do not support our research universities, large businesses come in and offer $$ BUT: With heavy conditions on what can and cannot be researched, favoring their own particular financial and policy interests, biases and thereby dramatically diluting the academic freedom we need at our major research universities.

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 7:53am

So Michigan ranks 11th among all states? That sounds pretty good, given all other priorities, just another example that whatever we spend the various interest groups will cry that it isn't enough. It would be more interesting if Bridge spend its time and effort focusing on how to make existing government operations and structures more efficient, (if they make sense at all) freeing up currently spent funds rather than being the soapbox for the infinite line of clamoring interest groups. Think about it.