Nellis to State Board of Education: Academic Success Drives Economic Development

Thursday, April 21 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – In a report today to the State Board of Education, University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis said the institution’s overall strength is recognized in many key ways, including academic quality, student success, research vitality and national reputation. Further, Nellis said, success in these areas benefit the state of Idaho by driving economic development and enhancing global competitiveness.

“The power of higher education – and in particular of land-grant universities – is to take its knowledge and discoveries and use those to help the state move forward,” Nellis said.

Part of the power of higher education is demonstrated in partnerships and collaborations, Nellis said. He cited the university’s agreement with the J.R. Simplot Company for collaborative and other research at the Parma Research and Extension Center as an example of moving the state forward.

In a video comment included in the presentation, Bill Whitacre, Simplot chief executive officer and president, said that even with limited resources, there is potential to do great things in the state of Idaho.

“How we leverage up our asset base and our mutual areas of concern and opportunity as a state is going to define who we are in the future,” said Whitacre.

The University of Idaho is increasingly focused on interdisciplinary learning opportunities to best prepare students for entering an integrated global economy and to enhance the impact of research. Among the areas that emphasize this integration are environmental science, water resources, bioregional planning, neuroscience, bioinformatics and computational biology.

Nellis also told board members about the success of the institution’s research enterprise, which accounts for 73 percent of the total research expenditures of Idaho’s public universities, or nearly $100 million research awards annually. Among recent awards is the university’s largest-ever grant, which supports climate science and the agricultural industry. The University of Idaho is the lead institution for the $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with partners at Oregon State and Washington State universities.

The university also partners with the Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho State and Boise State universities at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls. With just under $5 million contributed to CAES by the state of Idaho over the past three years, the center has won competitive research contracts in excess of $22 million, along with $15 million from INL and $6 million from the federal government.

In addition, Nellis talked about how the university is working to connect research with the marketplace through businesses in several ways, including through a new Laboratory for Applied Science Research in Post Falls. LASR will bring together businesses that have ideas, but not the resources to develop them for market application, and the brain power of university researchers who can focus their efforts for short-term development of business research. The result: applications that are market-ready and more fuel for Idaho’s economic development engine.

Nellis also had sobering news for the board, reaffirming that the university has been hit by more than $20 million in state budget cuts over the past two years. The impact meant that the institution has cut the equivalent of 217 full-time positions; cut 35 programs; and restructured three colleges.

“Make no mistake: declining funding and resources from the state of Idaho will continue to challenge us [the University of Idaho],” Nellis said. “Yet, our statewide presence and activities are essential in fulfilling our land-grant mission here in Idaho.”

But even with severe budget cuts, the university is doing more with less by embracing an entrepreneurial approach to help it own its own destiny. Three successive years of stable, steady enrollment increases are on track to reach a goal of 16,000 statewide students by 2020. Private giving, even during tough economic times, is up; the university’s foundation reported that gifts totaled nearly $27 million last year. The university awarded more than 5,000 financial aid packages, which included roughly $12.5 million in institution-provided scholarships.

Students are creating an impact not only in Idaho, but around the nation. For the fourth year in a row earned a national commendation; in the last year alone, more than 2,200 students volunteered more 130,000 hours to service-learning and volunteer projects, such as community-building efforts or building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

The University of Idaho’s land-grant mission is to take its research and discovery to help the state grow and prosper. The institution is dedicated to “training Idaho’s future citizens to their usefulness in private life and public service,” Nellis said, quoting a university motto carved on the Administration Building.

He echoed the words of President Theodore Roosevelt who visited the university’s Moscow campus in April 1911. Roosevelt said, “I know that the University [of Idaho] represents that which shall count in the state tomorrow, and that it makes possible growth in the 50 years to come.”
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to be classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit