Public research universities contribute to overall economy, research, and infrastructure in support of students, families, and the nation
CAMBRIDGE, MA | MARCH 22, 2016 — Public research universities are anchors of stability and growth in their regions—vital to economic development and the creative economy. Not only do they educate nearly four million Americans each year, including about 900,000 graduate students, they are responsible for conducting much of the nation’s research in science, medicine, engineering, and technology. And, as centers of cultural learning, featuring museums and theaters, these universities enhance the quality of life in communities nationwide.
These are some of the findings from Public Research Universities: Serving the Public Good, a new publication released today from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. An initiative of the American Academy, The Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Higher Education is studying the importance of public research universities, analyzing economic trends affecting their operations, and recommending new strategies to sustain these critical institutions.
According to Serving the Public Good, some facts about public research universities include:
- Although they represent only three percent of the total number of institutions in the U.S. higher education system, public research universities educate about 20 percent of all students in the country.
- Scientists at public research universities have been awarded 53 Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine, and 15 Nobel Prizes in Economic Sciences.
- More than half of the 2015 class elected to the National Academy of Inventors work at public research universities.
- Between 2012 and 2013, research at public universities resulted in more than 13,322 patent applications, 522 start-up companies, and 3,094 intellectual property licenses.
- Examples of breakthroughs made at public research universities include the lithium-ion battery in smartphones and tablets; the gene editing system known as CRISPR; retractable locking seatbelts; and antibiotics like Streptomycin.
“The Lincoln Project’s latest report offers examples of contributions that public research universities have made to economic growth, civic engagement, individual well-being, and our democracy,” said American Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “These institutions are vital to our society and the public good. The policy recommendations in our final report, to be released next month, will focus on how to sustain these universities for the long term, and for the benefit of us all.”
“Our shared knowledge, the health and lives of the public—all of this has been advanced by researchers at public universities,” said Lincoln Project co-chair Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley. “These universities also serve as pathways to a better future for large numbers of talented students—including many of whom are the first in their family to pursue higher education. Whether you consider economics, health, or individual well-being, the nation and its citizens have been very well served by our public research universities.”
Serving the Public Good is the fourth in a series of five publications from The Lincoln Project. The first publication, Public Research Universities: Why They Matter, demonstrated the vital public good that public research universities offer to the nation. The second publication, Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding, examined state financing of higher education, the challenges that state governments face, and the prospects for greater state support in the future. The third publication, Public Research Universities: Understanding the Financial Model, detailed the most common financial models that sustain public research universities and examines new ideas for diversifying and enhancing funding sources in the future. The final publication will be issued next month and will offer substantive policy recommendations for sustaining public research universities.
The co-chairs of the Lincoln Project are Robert Birgeneau and Mary Sue Coleman, President-Elect, Association of American Universities, and President Emerita, the University of Michigan.
Funding for the Lincoln Project is provided by generous support from Robert and Colleen Haas, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation.
Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world. Current Academy research focuses on higher education, the humanities, and the arts; science and technology policy; global security and energy; and American institutions and the public good. The Academy’s work is advanced by its elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.