Economic success depends on UW, other public universities

Rebecca BlankBy Rebecca M. Blank, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A lively debate underway in Wisconsin and across the nation questions the value of public research universities to the state taxpayers who help support them. This debate indicates that many do not understand the role these universities play in driving innovation and keeping the state and U.S. competitive.

As an economist, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about American competitiveness. There are two big things that really matter if the United States is going to stay at the front end of the global economy. First, we need a skilled and nimble workforce; second, we need to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and new technology. There’s only one institution at the center of both of those agendas: the big research university that educates students and serves as an ideas factory for the nation.

This is particularly true of the big public research university. The majority of our most skilled workers are educated at these institutions. There are 34 public institutions among the 62 top research universities that make up the Association of American Universities. The public schools awarded 81% of the college degrees given by these schools in 2012-’13.

The importance of research universities in educating top scientists, engineers and doctors is well understood. But the second part of our mission is equally important and often forgotten or misconstrued. Those who criticize our faculty for not teaching enough fail to recognize that teaching is only half their work. Read more …

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