College Presidents, Rep. Vernon Ehlers to Discuss the Future of Science at Undergraduate Institutions

Media contact

Four academic institutions from Illinois participated in comprehensive survey

A conference of presidents from this nation’s leading undergraduate institutions will reveal that a generous mix of quality teaching with quality research is the formula for building successful careers in science. Meeting at Fermilab on June 25 and 26, one hundred and eighty representatives of more than 100 colleges and universities, as well as leaders of professional societies and funding agencies, will hear and discuss the most effective ways to stimulate needed growth in the number of undergraduates studying science. Representative Vernon Ehlers, chairman of the congressional Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, and Larry Faulkner, president of the University of Texas, are Monday’s keynote speakers.

Results of a comprehensive, large-scale study, to be presented at the conference, show that scientific research supports science education, and institutions that are most active in research are generally most effective in education. Four academic institutions from Illinois (Eastern Illinois University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and Wheaton College) participated in the study, which examined institutional characteristics that identify success in science. With more than 130 institutions and nearly 3,000 faculty surveyed, it is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever produced.

According to the study, too few institutions appear to recognize the educational value of a supportive environment for research, and few seem to understand that the research performed at undergraduate institutions can contribute to the advancement of science. Only a small number of colleges and universities excel in virtually all measures of academic excellence in science. They prepare students to enter science careers, create environments in which research is nurtured, and contribute to the advancement of science. Some are selective, small private institutions like Williams College, Hope College, and Furman University. Others, such as Western Washington University, University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Northern Arizona University are large state institutions whose student bodies reflect their state’s population. Together they graduate significant numbers of students who undertake careers in science, and their faculty, working hand-in-hand with students, receive research grants that support their activities in the advancement of science.

The year-long study, which surveyed the decade of the 1990s, examined institutional characteristics that identify success in science. Sponsored by five private foundations, the study reveals a strong relationship with faculty research activities. With more than one hundred and thirty institutions and nearly 3,000 faculty surveyed, this has been the most comprehensive study of its kind ever produced. The findings of the study are expected to influence the future roles of scientific research and education at undergraduate institutions.

The study, published in a 500-plus-page document called Academic Excellence: The SourceBook, reports a nearly $1.4 billion investment over a decade for science-related operations at the surveyed institutions, with expenditures of over $25,000,000 per institution to less than $25,000, or from $46,000 per faculty member per year to less than $460. The study found that support from the private sector was minor compared to that from federal and state government, which constituted seventy-four percent of total expenditures for research and research instrumentation. Private capital, however, provided the majority of the costs for new constructions and renovations. Surprisingly, the number of faculty seeking support has remained constant while the amount of research support has increased by more than 40 percent over the past fifteen years.

The study and conference are sponsored by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, the Welch Foundation, the W. M. Keck Foundation, the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, and Research Corporation.

Media representatives may receive a copy of Academic Excellence: The SourceBook by contacting Carmen Vitello at the conference or at Research Corporation: Tel. 520-571-1111, Fax 520-571-1119, Email Copies will also be available at Fermilab.