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Tennessee's public universities see a sharp drop in federal research funding


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  The number of research dollars awarded to Tennessee’s public universities has fallen dramatically in recent years, thanks in large measure to a drop in federal funding.

University of Tennessee affiliated schools report a decline of about 9 percent in the last three years. The state’s other higher education system, the Tennessee Board of Regents, reports that its six universities saw research funding drop by more than 23 percent during the same period.

Tennessee schools aren’t the only ones losing research dollars. Jennifer Poulakidas with the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities says available federal funding has been falling for the past decade. She believes failing to support basic research will have dire consequences for the nation.

“If we continue to stagnate as our competitor countries are moving up, we will lose our global, economic eminence. And that’s got impacts that go beyond just economic well-being. It’s got impacts that speak to our health and our national and homeland security.”

At the recent opening of a new science building at Middle Tennessee State, TBR Chancellor John Morgan said the loss of federal dollars is painful, especially since a drop in grant awards could also trigger a drop in funding from the state.

“Primarily we’re a teaching system. It’s about teaching and learning, but research is very important here in this building at MTSU, as well as at our other campuses.”

In the Board of Regents System, Middle Tennessee State suffered the largest decline in research awards. Funding at MTSU fell by more than half in three years.

Nearly all of the research funding drop suffered by the University of Tennessee system came in a single solar research project tied to recession stimulus grants.