The next six months will be revealing for the Chief Academic Officer (President) of major public universities. States will be receiving the initial stimulus funding, and the legislatures and governors will be deciding if higher education will be a recipient or if other state agencies will receive a majority of the funding. It is clear that higher education was de-emphasized in the final legislation; the winners were students and the national science funding agencies.
The National Science Foundation received 3 billion dollars in additional funding and the National Institute of Health received 10 billion. There is another 3.5 billion for Energy and others. Expectations are the two funding organizations will disperse the funds quickly with current projects being expanded. Also expect a number of facilities upgrades to compliment the expanded research. With science receiving limited funding in recent years, it would be exciting to see the majority of the funding going to areas that were important in the presidential campaign: energy and healthcare.
State universities could use this opportunity to set themselves apart from the crowd for the next decade by deciding to optimize outputs through large collaborations with other universities. Further, it would be exciting to see the next boom in venture capital funding follow the Obama stimulus funding. A decade of economic growth could easily follow in renewable energy, healthcare, and informatics.
Many communities are waiting to see the direction higher education will decide to pursue. Will it be more of the same, or will universities step up with innovation that is noteworthy? Academic leaders must decide the next steps; the actions in the next year will set the direction for the next decade. State universities will be forced to reevaluate every aspect of the curriculum as budget cuts take their toll. The universities that can limit administrative and academic duplication statewide will be able to invest wisely in emerging academic programs across the sciences. It is time for the CAO to step up and lead.