Carolyn Caine
Institute for Policy & Social Research

NSF grant supports study on how state cuts to higher education affect research output

Fri, 07/12/2019

LAWRENCE — The National Science Foundation has awarded a $236,790 grant to the University of Kansas for Donna Ginther, professor of economics and interim director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research, to study the effects of research funding on research outputs.

Ginther will collaborate with Joshua Rosenbloom, professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. “The Effect of State Disinvestment in Higher Education on Research Quality and Returns to Scale in Science Funding” was awarded through NSF’s Science of Science and Innovation Policy program and also included $313,624 in funding for Iowa State. The research will apply economic methods to policy questions about state and federal research funding and the effects of research funding.

The award will allow Ginther and Rosenbloom to expand their previous investigation on the effects federal funding has on research outputs — publications, citations to those publications and patents — in the chemical sciences. In this new project, they will explore how funding affects outputs for an individual researcher and for a college or university. To do this, they will use a new data source that allows them to compare outputs across more disciplines, including biomedical sciences and economics. Their work will answer questions about what happens when states cut higher education: How do those cuts affect the research productivity and federal research funding of departments and universities?

Ginther and Rosenbloom will also examine whether state funding for higher education substitutes for, or complements, federal funding. Since the 2008 recession, many states have cut funding to higher education, and some have yet to restore that funding. Because of those cuts, it’s important for policymakers to understand how these two funding sources interact with each other.

“In order to conduct research and train graduate students in many science and engineering fields, faculty are required to get federal research funding. We hypothesize that the most successful research faculty will be lured away from public research institutions after budget cuts to the university are made. We’re excited to use data gathered by Academic Analytics to evaluate our hypothesis,” Ginther said. The University of Kansas subscribes to Academic Analytics data for institutional research and benchmarking purposes. 

The team will use data on individual faculty members, their publications and other research products, the instances where their publications are cited and the grants they receive. The team will combine this data with information on students, postdoctoral researchers and research spending at colleges and universities. Research associate Pat Oslund will work with Ginther to compile and analyze the data. KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the preparation of the proposal and will manage the award.

With this data, Ginther and Rosenbloom will develop a model showing the causal effect of cuts to higher education on research output, then improve models of the effects of federal research funding. This model will also account for state funding changes and their effects on research outputs at universities. Using this evidence, policymakers will be able to make more informed decisions about higher education funding.

“If our hypothesis is correct,” Ginther said, “we will be able to have a better understanding of the long-term consequences of cuts to public higher education institutions in terms of federal research funding, research productivity and innovation.”

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