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Toward a More Equitable Research Enterprise

By University of California, Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox:

The recent Supreme Court rulings in the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases have renewed national conversations about equitable access to education. But these two court cases were not about access to education in general: they were instead about access to a small set of relatively rich institutions, institutions that receive the lion’s share of federal research dollars. Interest in those universities is high because they are believed to better prepare students for the future. To the extent that this is true, it shouldn’t be a surprise, for we as a nation have chosen to directly invest more heavily in those institutions than in thousands of other universities across the country.

It is undeniable that our current system of funding universities is inherently unequal. Of the approximately 900 U.S. colleges and universities that have annual research and development expenditures of $150,000 or more, 24 presently have research and development expenditures over $1 billion per year, and another 31 more than $500 million per year. At the same time, 566 have less than $10 million in R&D expenditures annually. Federal funds account for the majority of this R&D spending.

Over time, those institutions at the top of this list have created infrastructure (facilities and equipment, grant-management support, faculty mentoring, logistical advice, etc.) that further increases their odds of future success in federal grant competitions, while those at the bottom struggle to even participate in the research enterprise.

Read the rest of the article in Inside Higher Ed.