With legislators in the General Assembly fighting a July 1st deadline to craft the state’s 2010 budget, Indiana University administrators are nervously awaiting word of the school’s share.
In anticipation of the special session, university leadership recently released a long-delayed and internally-commissioned report it hopes will influence lawmakers.
The first thing to know about university impact studies is that most are written by universities themselves. And even the authors admit most aren’t very credible.
“A lot of these studies, quite frankly are not held in very high regard among a lot of people that know.”
That’s Tim Slaper, author of IU’s study – who’s quickly cut off by his boss, Indiana Business Research Center Director Jerry Conover…
“You mean, other studies of this kind,” he said.
“…other studies of this kind. These things tend to be over magnified, shall we say,” Slaper said.
The Indiana Business Research Center which oversaw the study, which calculates the total economic footprint of IU on the state of Indiana $4.6 billion each year. But how’d they arrive at that number?
Conover and Slaper admit there’s no one way to compute IU’s impact on Indiana. Since there are no rules for how to show the different ways IU fits into Indiana’s economy, Slaper and his team developed their own methodology in hopes scholars wouldn’t berate the study like they do other, similar reports.
“If other academics laugh at these, and some do, quite frankly, that doesn’t speak very well of the methodology,” he said.
Slaper says he took a conservative approach to his research, adding the report’s crown jewel — the $4.6 billion figure — wasn’t as high as it could have been or as high as some administrators would have liked.
If anything I thought, ‘Well, these numbers are probably too low for those that want to take this an advocate for the university. I mean, how come it’s $4.6 [billion] instead of $6.4 [billion]? Couldn’t you juice them up a little? You know, the methodology is kind of shaky anyway, with this that and the next thing,’” Slaper said.
In fact, IU leaders commissioned the report. Conover says the study’s release was then delayed as it worked its way through IU’s administrative layers.
By the time the numbers were finally released, lawmakers had finished their regular session without passing a state budget – stopping IU from setting tuition rates because the university did not know what its appropriation would be.
Governor Mitch Daniels’ latest budget proposal called for a four percent reduction in higher education spending. To IU, that’s around $20 million. But it’s just one of many numbers being debated during the current special session of the legislature – essentially a second chance for IU to make its case for more money, now with research ostensibly at the ready.
So why release the study now?
“Did we tip our hand on this one?” Slaper said, to Conover’s laughter.
“The report hopefully will be read and considered by legislators as well as other in other key decision roles in state government. It does provide a case that says the university’s contributions to the state are many-fold and substantial,” Conover said.
Slaper and Conover say those crafting the budget need numbers — including an all encompassing figure — which put a face on all the university does. That way, he says, legislators can better understand the university’s narrative…
“I think those that have the pen and might apply some whiteout to some line items in the budget might be well served to consider all the benefits that accrue to the state as a result of investing in education,” Slaper said.
“And it’s a reasonable question for the state, taxpayers, the legislators, others, to ask, ‘What do we get back for all that investment?’ Hopefully the university won’t feel as much of a budget ax as it might have without this information,” Conover said.
And it might be working. A one-year budget passed Thursday by House Democrats offers about a two-percent increase for higher education spending.
But the budget now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, which could again transform the House spending plan into a two-year model and re-calculate how much money IU receives.