Economic Development Activity among Land-Grant Institutions

Article excerpt

Introduction

The purpose of this study was to gather, interpret, and present empirical data to increase understanding about the nature and level of contemporary economic development activity among American colleges and universities. The secondary purpose was to contribute information to decision makers and researchers concerned with business-university initiatives. As a well-recognized subset of institutions uniquely oriented toward applying knowledge to address directly social and economic problems, land-grant institutions were selected for the study sample. Limited empirical data are available to inform institutions and government policy makers on this topic, yet significant commitments are being made by academic institutions and government at all levels to involve these institutions more directly in economic development |9, 19, 24, 28~.

Previous work on business-university initiatives has tended to examine research impacts primarily, argue for increased (or decreased) involvement of such institutions in economic development, or focus on policy. Much of this literature has been conjectural or superficial in its discussion of factors influencing university-industry initiatives. The present study sought, specifically, to (a) describe the many factors influencing institutions' decisions associated with economic development initiatives, (b) assess the degree of their impact on involvement, and (c) determine the degree to which academic personnel policies were affected or related to increased institutional involvement.

Related Literature, Context of this Study

Land-grant institutions were created through the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 to train students in the agricultural and mechanic arts to meet the needs of industry and agricultural technology during that period |14~. The obligations of their national grants emphasized service: "On the whole, the land-grant institutions were conscious of the great debt they owed to the public largess" |1, p. 33~.

Land-grant institutions number 72 today, comprising about half of the 149 members of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) |24~. The United States Office of Education ceased collecting separate statistics on the land-grant institutions in 1963 |1, p. 1~.

The land-grant idea represents a political ideal. The diminishing of their uniqueness is due to the adoption by other institutions of the basic concepts of the land-grant idea: democratization of education; applied or mission-oriented research conducted to the benefit of the people of the states; and service rendered directly to these people |1, pp. 1, 2~.

These institutions "have, since their inception, played central roles in state and national economic development" |17, p. 61~.

Today American colleges and universities of varied heritage are expected to respond to local, state, and national economic development and industrial competitiveness needs |4, 7, 20, 25, 27, 28, 32~. Industry-academe partnerships are touted in many quarters |16, 22, 25, 29~. Such partnerships are not a new feature in American life but appear to be changing in character, extent of collaboration, and number |3, 26~. Universities are generally not seen as primary sources of new businesses; for example, they hold only about 2 percent of the active patents in the United States |35~. In some cases, such as Silicon Valley, California, and the University City section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they may be initial and essential, but not the primary, sources of new business formation |15~. Yet they are regarded as key to the mix |21~ that results in prosperity in an increasingly information-based economy |20, 32~, including manufacturing-oriented subeconomies |23~.

Economic development has been understood to be the process by which underdeveloped nations or less advanced regional economies are accelerated toward parity with more advanced, generally more prosperous, societies. …