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Leading Research Universities Report, May 20, 2024

a gloved hand holding a beaker with liquid in it and a dropper next to itBarbara’s Blog: Budget Cuts to Science Programs Are Threatening Our Global Leadership

Last week, AAU President Barbara R. Snyder published a blog post pointing out how federal cuts to science funding, especially to agencies such as the National Science Foundation that support basic research, are threatening global American leadership in science and technology.

In the blog, she noted how cuts to NSF funding are endangering “all kinds of scientific research designed to address national and global challenges – but especially research in cutting-edge and emerging science and technology.” She called attention to specific NSF programs, such as the National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes and the NSF Engines, “designed to promote regional innovation centers in states across the country,” which are now threatened because of funding cuts. Further, she noted how, in the long run, reduced availability of funds at NSF “will decrease grant success” for researchers interested in working with the agency and “create headwinds against America’s efforts to encourage more home-grown STEM talent.”

President Snyder urged Congress to catch up to our global competitors, to restore the NSF’s funding, and to set the agency’s budget on the visionary track Congress promised in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. “It’s a trajectory that reflects the agency’s immense responsibilities to discover the innovations we need – and to train the people we need – to keep America first in science and technology in an increasingly competitive world,” she wrote.

ICYMI:Fund American Science

The letters AI lit in blue and made up of computer binaryBipartisan Senate AI Working Group Releases Roadmap for AI Policy

Last week, the Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group, which includes Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Todd Young (R-IN), released a “roadmap” for artificial intelligence policy in the United States. “Ultimately, It is our hope this roadmap helps to inform consideration of bipartisan AI legislation, ensure the United States remains at the forefront of innovation in AI, and helps all Americans benefit from the opportunities created by AI,” the group said in a one-pager on the roadmap.

The roadmap called for at least $32 billion in federal spending per year on non-defense AI innovation. It encouraged the Senate Appropriations Committee to prioritize “funding for a cross-government AI research and development (R&D) effort” and “funding the outstanding CHIPS and Science Act (P.L. 117-167) accounts not yet fully funded, particularly those related to AI.” The roadmap also called on relevant committees in the Senate to “consider legislation to improve the U.S. immigration system for high-skilled STEM workers in support of national security and to foster advances in AI across the whole of society.” In addition, the roadmap expressed support for a “strong, comprehensive federal data privacy law to protect personal information” and acknowledged AI’s “potential for unintended harmful bias.” It fell short, however, of calling for new comprehensive legislation to regulate AI technology to mitigate its harms.

college student walking with a notebook and phone in handNew Report Shows Interest in Pursuing College Education Is High, But Cost and Mental Health Remain Barriers

In a new survey of U.S. adults without a college degree (including those currently pursuing higher education, those who were previously enrolled in a program but did not finish, and those who have never enrolled), 94% of respondents said that “at least one kind of postsecondary credential – such as an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, certificate or industry certification – is very valuable.” The survey also found that more than half of adults not currently enrolled in a postsecondary program said that they are likely (26%) or very likely (25%) to pursue “at least one certificate, certification or degree” in the next five years.

The 2024 State of Higher Education report from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation also found that more Americans than ever (59%) are interested in pursuing a credential, but concerns about cost and mental well-being are preventing many from enrolling or continuing in a program. According to the report, “for more than three-quarters of unenrolled adults, cost and the need to work prevent them from pursuing further education,” while “about one in three enrolled adults find it difficult to remain enrolled or have considered stopping out, largely due to mental health and cost concerns.”

The survey also found that nearly three-quarters of currently enrolled students find the quality of the education they receive to be “excellent” or “very good.” Students in in-person programs rated the quality of their programs higher than students in online or hybrid programs. A majority of the students (six in 10) also reported “that the faculty and instructors in their program care about them as a person and that they have at least one mentor who encourages them to pursue their goals.” The report noted, however, that “women and students of color are less likely than their White and male peers to feel cared for, mentored, respected and like they belong.” The report underscores the need for higher education institutions to focus on making education affordable; fostering belonging; and prioritizing students’ mental health and wellbeing in helping Americans access higher education.

tansformer with powerlines lit blue at nightDOE Appoints Inaugural Board of Directors for the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation

Last week, the Department of Energy announced that it has appointed the inaugural board of directors for the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI), which was authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act. The foundation, set up as an independent nonprofit, will “help accelerate the commercialization of new and existing energy technologies by raising and investing funds through engagements with the private sector and philanthropic communities.” Purdue University President Mung Chiang is among those appointed to the board.

AAU has supported the establishment of the foundation and urged Congress to include it in innovation legislation and to fund it in the FY24 budget. In a 2022 letter, AAU noted that FESI would help pool resources from industry, universities, and the federal government to “unlock and guide the untapped intellectual property held at DOE-funded national laboratories and research universities … to address national security, environmental, manufacturing, and other areas of U.S. competitiveness.”

Leading Research Universities Report to Return on Monday, June 3

Due to Memorial Day, the Leading Research Universities Report will take a break from publication next week. The next edition will be released on Monday, June 3.

News of Interest

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Yes, College Is ‘Worth It’ – Despite questions about the value of a college degree, evidence shows that higher education produces incredible economic and social value for those who choose to pursue it. Studies show that college-educated workers earn higher wages, live longer, and are happier than their non-college-educated peers. Society is also better off with more college graduates – they have greater rates of civic participation and help “boost other workers’ productivity, raising the wages of high-school graduates and those who drop out alike.”

Inside Higher Ed: Democrats and Republicans Alike Still See Value in a Degree – A new survey conducted for the think tank Third Way found that a majority of Americans (80%) believe that college degrees are valuable, including 88% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans. The same survey shows, however, that only 56% “of American voters have a favorable view of ‘the higher education system in the United States’ as a whole.”

Higher Ed Dive: Dartmouth College Is Investing $500M to Become a Sustainability Leader. Will Others Follow? – Dartmouth College is investing half a billion dollars to make its campus more sustainable. The college is revamping its heating infrastructure as well as implementing other energy efficiency measures “to reduce emissions on campus 60% by 2030, and entirely 100% by 2050” as part of “a broader effort on campus meant to incorporate research, academics and the wider community.”

The Wall Street Journal: College Graduations Avoid Major Disruption as Tensions Abate – As the “tension of recent weeks has abated,” commencement ceremonies at universities across the nation have proceeded largely without any major disturbances. Whether protests will pick up again in the summer or during the next academic year, however, remains “an open question” and could depend on what happens in Gaza next.

The Chicago Tribune: Michael Schill: Here’s Why I Reached an Agreement with Northwestern Protestors – In an opinion essay, Northwestern University President Michael Schill wrote about the agreement the university reached with protestors on campus. Schill noted that the agreement was driven by a desire to protect the health and safety of the campus community and free expression, and to bring protests into compliance with the university’s rules. The resolution, “fragile though it might be,” Schill wrote, “was possible because we chose to see our students not as a mob but as young people who were in the process of learning.”

The Wall Street Journal: Why I Ended the University of Chicago Protest Encampment – University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos explained in an opinion essay why the university ended the protest encampment on its campus. Alivisatos wrote that the university initially pursued dialogue with the protestors but could not reach an agreement because underpinning their demands “was a call for the university to diminish ties with Israel and increase ties with the Palestinians in Gaza.” Acceding to these demands, Alivisatos argued, would have led the university to violate the foundational principle of institutional neutrality, which dictates that “authority can’t establish truth for an entire institution dedicated to truth-seeking.”

Deseret News: President Taylor Randall: Preserving Freedom of Expression Within the Confines of the Law Is Good for All – In an opinion essay, University of Utah President Taylor Randall wrote about the university’s actions in response to protests on campus. Randall noted that two principles guided him as he made decisions regarding campus protests: the importance of the right to free expression and the responsibility that comes with that right. The university followed these principles and engaged in “hours of discussion in good faith” with protestors, Randall wrote, but called law enforcement when “some protestors decided to ignore state law.”

Featured Research

flight of beer

Repurposed Beer Yeast May Offer a Cost-Effective Way to Remove Lead from Water

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology have come up with a way to repurpose surplus yeast generated at breweries to absorb lead from drinking water. The researchers packaged “the yeast inside hydrogel capsules to create a filter” that can remove even trace amounts of lead in water. The researchers envision the filters being used in home faucets as well as water treatment plants.

several tents on the sidewalk

Supportive Housing Program for Californians Experiencing Homelessness Shows Promise

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles evaluated a program designed to help Californians experiencing homelessness and found that supportive services tailored to each participants’ needs are crucial to ensuring that individuals remain housed long-term. The researchers also found that program beneficiaries used fewer costly health services, thus providing “much-needed evidence that lack of housing is a likely reason for more visits to emergency rooms or hospitalizations.”

From Our Feeds

screenshot of AAU tweet of a quote from Barbara R. Snyder

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Mark Becker announced last week that he will depart the association at the end of the year. APLU works to “advance the mission of public research universities” and consists of “nearly 250 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations.” Becker has led the association since 2022.

“Mark is perhaps best known for his remarkable leadership in student success. All of us in higher ed have benefited from Mark’s example, and it has been a privilege to serve alongside him as we work to strengthen American higher education,” said AAU President Barbara R. Snyder on Becker’s departure.