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States, Universities Seek Support for Research Infrastructure

September 26, 2012

Whether to attract federal grants, keep up with demand to graduate more highly skilled students, or advance the capabilities for research and exploration, universities are pushing for state funding to invest in science buildings and other infrastructure needed to expand research capacity and improve competitiveness. In New Jersey, a measure to approve $750 million in higher education borrowing to build and renovate campus facilities will go to the voters in November. Meanwhile, university leaders in New York and Utah recently pitched proposals to state leaders for new science and technology buildings they say will educate more students and create high-wage jobs.

New Jersey
Backed by Gov. Chris Christie, the New Jersey measure is the first higher education bond issue to appear on the ballot in 24 years. While borrowing for capital improvement would be divided among the state's public and private colleges, a provision was added to the law excluding private colleges with endowments of more than $1 billion from receiving any of the funds.

In a statement reported by the Star-Ledger, Rutgers officials said the construction of new classroom buildings, research labs and other critically needed facilities would help the state's research universities to better serve students, create jobs and fuel the state's economic engine. Public research universities would share the largest allocation of $300 million, if the referendum passes. A report from the New Jersey Presidents' Council released last year lists the highest priority capital needs of colleges and universities to the tune of $6 billion, while noting the list does not constitute a plan or proposal for a statewide capital initiative. However, the report may serve as a glimpse into how the money would be used on college campuses.

New York
In response to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant (see the Aug. 17, 2011 issue of the Digest), the president of the University at Albany along with regional economic development leaders pitched their proposal to build a state-of-the-art R&D facility for emerging technologies focusing on biotech, instrumentation, environmental sectors, and solar energy research. Officials hope to win approval of $35 million from the state toward the project.

The plan calls for construction of a $165 million Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex, which is expected to generate more than $1.8 billion in economic impact throughout the region and bring in nearly 200 faculty researchers. The complex, called E-TEC, would house several entrepreneurial resources, such as an Office of Entrepreneurial and Commercialization Services, small business development center, university technology transfer office, and business engagement center. Construction would start in 2013 if approved by the governor. Read the press release...

In Utah, the state Board of Regents is making a new science building for Weber State University a major priority in its list of capital development projects, which requires legislative approval. Officials are asking for $60 million to replace the current structure, built in 1968, with a state-of-the-art, 200,000-square-foot building. The current building lacks electrical capacity to meet the needs of modern laboratories and poses significant safety hazards, according to the university. With a high demand to prepare students for STEM fields, officials say the upgrade is needed in order to produce graduates that will excel in the workforce and to accommodate high-level research.

New Jersey, New York, Utahr&d, higher ed