Nellis Outlines University’s Statewide Impact, Supports Executive Budget Recommendations for Higher Ed

Wednesday, January 25 2012


MOSCOW, Idaho – The human capital at the University of Idaho – students, faculty, staff, partners and alumni – moves the state’s economy forward and is an unparalleled investment for the state.

That’s the message that M. Duane Nellis, university president, delivered today to members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on behalf of the state’s land-grant university.

In prepared remarks, Nellis used stories of student and faculty researchers, and the success of alumni, to demonstrate how the university infuses nearly $1 billion into the state’s economy each year.

The 9-to-1 return on the state’s investment is a powerful confirmation of the University of Idaho’s distinct role as a member of the nation’s land-grant university system established by the 1862 Morrill Act.

“Today, every state – including Idaho – can trace a significant aspect of its economic success to the innovations and industry of our public higher education system,” said Nellis.

He hoped JFAC members take away from his presentation what “a great investment [the University of Idaho is] for your state dollars. We serve the entire state and we’ve woven into the fabric of the state.”

The University of Idaho contributes to the state in many ways: through research that is important to Idaho, from agriculture to water, from climate and natural resource management to engineering, and the humanities.

While many things that drive the university – teaching, research, extension, outreach and service – they’re all anchored around the human resource and the University of Idaho’s commitment to educate Idaho’s sons and daughters to help them become the next generation of leaders.

“The people of the University of Idaho are one of its greatest assets,” Nellis said. “Our bright and dedicated faculty and staff help ensure that our students succeed.”

Nellis added that much of Idaho’s “growth and economic well-being have come through the leadership provided by our graduates, who are among Idaho’s most productive citizens.”

University alumni lead in every corner of the state, contributing as teachers, in government and the judiciary, as physicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and researchers. All contribute to the livelihood, vibrancy and well-being of the state. The university’s reach also is enhanced through its Extension and 4-H programs, which last year connected with more than 400,000 Idaho residents.

Nellis praised Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s executive budget recommendations for higher education as a signal, “I hope, that we’re at a positive turning point.”

Investment in higher education is critical, according to Nellis, because the economic downturn has meant more and greater cuts to the higher education budget. Those cuts translate into a workforce that has taken on more responsibilities with fewer resources and no salary increases over the past four years.

The recent departure of university wheat researcher Bob Zemetra, hired by Oregon State University, is an example Nellis used to illustrate how non-market-rate salaries may lead faculty to leave, and how integral University of Idaho research is to fueling the state’s economy. A significant portion of all the wheat grown in Idaho comes from strains developed by University of Idaho researchers. Zemetra had developed Brundage and Brundage-96, which are planted widely in the state, and his departure will impact the state’s wheat industry, with its annual harvest of $766 million per year.

“Let me state strongly that an increase in the Change in Employee Compensation is our highest priority for the 2012 legislative session.” He praised Otter for recognizing the need for compensation funding in the FY13 budget.

Roughly 24 percent of the university’s total budget comes from the state’s general fund appropriation. That 24 percent includes funding for the university’s “General Education” budget, which includes financial support for the institution’s basic instruction and administrative functions. In addition, the 24 percent includes state support for the Agriculture Research and Extension Service, the Idaho Geological Survey, Forest Utilization Research, the Washington-Idaho Veterinary program and the WWAMI medical education program.

In talking about the university’s budget, Nellis said that in the past decade, the portion of the institution’s General Education budget that is funded by state funds has dropped from 73 percent in 2001 to 53.7 percent in 2011.

But even with enrollment growth over the past 10 years, the university’s purchasing power per student decreased by 19 percent. So, Nellis said, enrollment and tuition have both gone up, overall funding has gone down, and because of that, the university’s purchasing power has actually decreased by 19 percent – so “we’re doing more with less.”

Even with enrollment growth and tuition increases, given reductions in state funding, the university “would need an additional $33 million just to recapture our purchasing power” of a decade ago.

The university responded to the economic downturn by permanently reducing expenses, including personnel and operations. At the same time, it strategically reinvested through actions that include restructuring its research institutes and focusing its research on areas that are critical to the state’s success. It also has sought more strategic public-private partnerships and encouraged entrepreneurial thinking to cut costs and raised revenues.

He applauded Otter for recommending funding for enrollment workload adjustment; occupancy costs; and alteration and repair funds. In addition, he supported the governor’s funding requests for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) and the new Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission. He told committee members that CAES already has leveraged more than $42 million in competitive research grants and contracts from less than $5 million in state funding.

On the topic of research, Nellis told legislators that in the most recent data tracked by the National Science Foundation for university research expenditures, the University of Idaho accounted for 73 percent of all research dollars generated by Idaho public universities – nearly $100 million. The level of funding a university generates for research is one important measure of its strength and national competitiveness.

University of Idaho research is innovative and on track to meet the state’s and nation’s needs, Nellis said. For example, potato research by Kerry Huber, professor of food sciences, is expanding the success of Idaho’s potato industry by developing potato ingredients that resist quick conversion to blood sugar. They improve insulin levels, lower glycemic response, and lower fat and cholesterol. The nearly billion-dollar Idaho potato industry and others will benefit from this kind of cutting-edge research.

University of Idaho researchers also are leading the state’s largest, single higher education research grant. The $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is focused on the impact that climate variability has on regional wheat and barley crops. Idaho wheat and barley growers posted a projected $998 million in cash receipts among $7.4 billion from Idaho agriculture overall in 2011.
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About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. Learn more: www.uidaho.edu.