CHEYENNE — Often the odd man out in national studies, Wyoming bucked the trend in a positive way, according to a recent study of state spending for universities.
Wyoming is not one of the states that cut per-student funding between 2002 and 2010 for the nation’s 101 public research universities, according to a National Science Board report issued last month.
It is one of only 7 states that didn’t cut funds.
New York and Wyoming increased funding per student 72 percent and 62 percent, respectively in that time period, the National Science Board report said.
“Wyoming led the nation in 2010 in funding per student at $16,986 for its single major public research university,” the report said.
State per-student funding for the nation’s 101 major public research universities, however, declined by an average of 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2010, with 10 states experiencing declines ranging from 30 percent to as high as 48 percent.
In addition to the declines in state funding, increases in enrollment contributed to this national trend. Enrollment grew nationally by 13 percent — or nearly 320,000 more students — between 2002 and 2010.
Declines in state funding threaten the ability of major public research universities to educate new scientists and engineers, recruit and retain the best faculty and students, and continue performing top-quality research, the National Science Board report said.
The board is the governing body of the National Science Foundation.
The foundation “is concerned with the continued ability of these universities to provide affordable, quality education and training to a broad range of students, conduct basic science and engineering research that leads to innovations, and perform their public service missions,” the report said.
It cautions that a continued decline in state funding “threatens [the major public research universities’] continued capacity to attract the best talent, to provide quality education and training for the next generation of scientists and engineers, and to compete with their private counterparts, and is likely to result in an ongoing increase in tuition and fees.”
Rhode Island ranked first in spending cuts with a 47 percent decline to $3,692 per student in 2010 and a 15 percent increase in enrollment.
Colorado tied for second place with South Carolina and Oregon with a 48 percent decline to $3,417 per student spending and a 6 percent increase in enrollment.
Although the report puts spending in the context of science and research, the bigger picture is overall support for the university in all areas, said University of Wyoming spokesman Chad Baldwin.
Although UW is currently in belt-tightening mode with possible budget reductions of up to 8 percent, the state’s only four-year post-high-school institution is in good shape because it has received plenty of state support in the past decade.
During that period, the state’s basic contribution to UW increased from $100 million to $195 million per year. The university added 219 new instructional positions and increased its support budget, which includes lab equipment, from $20 million to $47 million.
“Those numbers very clearly show that the University of Wyoming has benefited tremendously from strong state support. And the students here see that. We have relatively small class sizes compared to our peer institution so the students get more attention and have more opportunity to do research,” Baldwin said Wednesday.
The university also has been able to recruit outstanding faculty, and officials expect to attract a strong pool of candidates to succeed retiring UW President Tom Buchanan, he added.
In addition to operating costs, the university spent more than $670 million in past seven years on capital construction, most of it in state dollars.
Although UW has increased tuition, the amount is small compared to other universities.
According to a report published earlier this year by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, UW’s undergraduate tuition increased by 4.3 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2011-2012 fiscal years. The figures were adjusted for inflation.
All other peer institutions increased tuition by an average of 44.7 percent, Baldwin said.
The governor and Legislature have adhered to the mandate in the Wyoming Constitution to make education as free as possible.
A high-performing student in Colorado who is eligible for scholarships could attend UW at less cost than staying at home and going to college, Baldwin said.
As for the science aspect, UW upgraded faculty and programs to take advantage of the National Center for Atmospheric Research computer in Cheyenne. A new high-performing computer on campus will be a bridge to the NCAR computer. Gov. Matt Mead appointed a task force authorized by the Legislature to plan upgrades to the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science.
The university will have a science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility named the Enzi Building after Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator, Mike Enzi. The lab will be dedicated to undergraduate research, Baldwin said.