Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg says loss of education funding threatens U.S. future

The decline in public financial support for higher education threatens the nation's safety, stability and prospects for future achievement, and suggests a possibly permanent shift in American priorities, University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said.

Instead of thinking about the future, citizens often seem most focused on their immediate needs and wants, he said.

"But comparatively little attention is paid to the crushing personal debts that students will incur" in trying to pay for higher education as federal and state financial support erodes for institutions of higher education such as Pitt, he told an audience of about 200 people at Pitt's American Experience Distinguished Lecture at the University Club on Monday evening.

After enduring a $67 million state budget cut three years ago and then two years of flat funding that state officials want to continue in the coming budget year, Pitt now receives the same amount of state funding it received in 1995, he said.

If adjusted for inflation, he said, state aid has fallen to its lowest level since the university became state-related in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, all but 10 states have begun to reinvest in higher education as the recession's financial effects have eased; Pennsylvania is one of the 10 that has not, according to Mr. Nordenberg. At the same time, he said, federal funding for research has also fallen precipitously, shaving another source of support for innovation, technology, economic growth and jobs.

"But as we cut and cut and then cut some more," and as other countries continually invest more in their universities and in scientific research, Mr. Nordenberg said, "we create an innovation deficit that threatens America's leadership."

As America, for instance, cut its support for biomedical research and development by about 2 percent and Canada cut its investment by nearly 3 percent in recent years, South Korea has increased its investment in biomedical research and development by more than 11 percent and China has increased its investment by about 33 percent, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine referred to by Mr. Nordenberg.

Because of that discrepancy -- and the toll reduced funding ultimately takes on depleted intellectual capital, untried innovation and potential spinoffs that go undeveloped -- the United States risks falling further and further behind its global competitors, Mr. Nordenberg said.

"Unfortunately, we are heading in the direction of lasting losses to community, commonwealth and country," he said.

Instead of that disappointing future, citizens and their elected officials owe it to succeeding generations to create a system that allows them to create successful, secure, productive lives for the betterment of themselves and their communities, Mr. Nordenberg said.

"That's a dream worth pursuing," he said.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-608-3618 or aschaarsmith@gmail.com

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