Self-Inflicted Wounding

DONALD N. LANGENBERG and WILLIAM C. RICHARDSON

January 22, 1992|By DONALD N. LANGENBERG and WILLIAM C. RICHARDSON

Imagine this headline in the sports section: ''World-classrunner shoots self in foot to heal broken leg.''

Laughable, of course. It would never happen.

But turn back to the front page a moment: ''Higher ed funding cut again as state struggles with economic slump.''

We're shooting ourselves in the foot, all right. Just when Maryland is most in need of both the intellectual vigor and the job-creating power of its colleges and universities, we have taken aim at them and squeezed the trigger.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has declared this Higher Education Awareness Week in Maryland. It thus is appropriate to remind Marylanders that the health of their state's economy is linked inextricably with the health of its high-quality System of public and private higher education.

You are familiar, we are certain, with some of the reasons why this is so. Maryland is no longer a smokestack state, and never will be one again. Its future lines in other directions: the life sciences and biotechnology, information technology and producer services, for example. Those sectors of the economy thrive only with highly trained employees, the kind our institutions provide through both our traditional and continuing education programs; they also require an environment of scientific innovation and entrepreneurship, the type of environment nurtured, again, by colleges and universities.

But you may not be as familiar with the raw economic power of our institutions. Higher education is a growth industry in Maryland. Johns Hopkins University and affiliated research institutions, for example, increased their combined payroll by more than one-third -- about 4,000 jobs -- in the latter half of the 1980s.

In 1990, 13 private colleges and universities in Maryland and the 14-institution University of Maryland System employed among them more than 44,000 people in full- and part-time jobs. According to conservative estimates, the institutions' spending, and that of their students and visitors from out of state, pumped $3.147 billion in new income into the Maryland economy.

That wasn't the end of the story. As that spending recycled through the economy -- college pays contractors, contractor pays subcontractor, subcontractor pays supplier, supplier pays manufacturer, etc. -- those 27 institutions supported an estimated 135,000 Maryland jobs. Those 27 alone -- and there are other public and private higher education institutions not counted among the 27 -- directly or indirectly generated $6.7 billion in new income. That was roughly 6.4 percent of the state's economy.

The University of Maryland System contributes an estimated $5.60 to the state's economy for every state dollar appropriated to it. State aid to independent colleges and universities, which vTC constitutes a far smaller percentage of their total institutional budgets, has a similarly large dollar-for-dollar economic impact.

In effect, our colleges and universities are economic examples of a principle you learned about in elementary physics: leveraging. When you use a lever -- a crowbar, say, or a see-saw -- your modest application of force here unleashes tremendous power over there. Maryland's universities and colleges are the taxpayers' lever for economic development, job-creation enterprises that magnify the effect of the state government dollars invested in operating them.

The payback for that investment comes in many forms. Hopkins, for instance, is the nation's leader in attracting federal research dollars. The institutions making up the University of Maryland System have increased their sponsored research funding by 75 percent over the past five years. In fiscal 1991, Hopkins and the Maryland System combined to bring roughly $1 billion in government, corporate and other research funding to the state.

These dollars, for the most part, were won through a process of competitive review pitting our researchers against those at institutions elsewhere. If not for the quality research work done at our Maryland universities, that money could well have been spend in other states, putting dinner on someone else's table.

Our colleges and universities are also looking ahead, working now to create jobs for the future. Both Hopkins and the University of Maryland System, for instance, are doing more than ever in technology transfer, helping companies -- especially Maryland companies -- transform our research findings into marketable products.

College Park, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Hopkins have established business incubator programs and the University of Maryland System offers a technology extension service, providing free on-site technical assistance to developing Maryland companies across the state. Hopkins, along with the City of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Hospital, has created the Bayview Research Campus to attract both institutional and private research organizations to Baltimore. Salisbury State is the lead institution in the Lower Eastern Shore Regional Technology Council.

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