Federal Research Support and Economic Development Strategies at Public Research Universities: What Is the Connection?

Article excerpt


The United States' ability to compete successfully in the global marketplace emerged as a national concern following the end of the Cold War. The federal government responded by establishing new policies to govern science and technology development. American research universities, in response to changes in federal funding priorities during the 1980s, began to develop strategies to promote socio-economic growth.

The results of a 1986 study, conducted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), revealed that American research universities promote economic development by: (a) evaluating policies and resolving community problems, (b) offering instructional programs and services that meet regional needs, (c) advocating tax policies that encourage industry contributions to the campus infrastructure, and (d) helping entrepreneurs develop technical and business expertise.

Hethcox (1990), in cooperation with the Economic Development Institute of Auburn University, used the results of the AASCU survey to develop and validate the Higher Education Economic Development Survey (HEEDS). The HEEDS is designed to classify economic development activities at institutions of higher education according to four strategic orientations: (a) New Business and Technology Development, (b) Capacity Building, (c) Human Resource Development, and (d) Research, Analysis, and Evaluation.

Using the HEEDS, Hoagland (1995) predicted the strategic orientation of public research universities in economic development. The HEEDS has also been used to gauge, via the perspectives of research administrators, the frequency with which public institutions vary their economic development strategies (Hethcox, 1990).

The purpose of the present study was to assess the relationship between federal research support and each of the four economic development orientations identified by the HEEDS. The following section describes the materials and methods used to accomplish this objective.

Materials and Methods


Fitzpatrick, Burkhalter, Hethcox, and Wilmouth (in press) and Hoagland (1995) conducted factor analyses and reliability tests of the HEEDS using different sets of data. Results confirmed the underlying four-dimensional structure of the instrument. In addition, this structure explained more than 60% of the variance in the data and the coefficients of reliability exceeded .70 (Hoagland, 1995).

Table 1 presents example items from the HEEDS. Items are organized under the following economic development orientations:

New Business and Technology Development. This orientation is characterized by collective strategies that "take a direct role in promoting new enterprises that use knowledge developed in the university" (AASCU, 1986, p. 10).

Capacity Building. Universities with this orientation rely on strategies that help to replace or upgrade the outmoded academic infrastructure and expand the technological capacity of the institution.

Human Resource Development. The focus of this orientation is the development of "education programs to meet the emerging human resource requirements of the new economy" (AASCU, 1986, p. 10).

Research, Analysis, and Evaluation. The fourth orientation is characterized by strategies that support decision-makers from industry, government, and other institutions.

Table 1:

Items Selected as Examples from HEEDS: New Business and Technology
Development, Capacity Building, Human Resource Development, and
Research Analysis and Evaluation

New Business and Technology Development

Item Number   Description of Item by Orientation

2-2           Provide management and technical assistance to
              potential entrepreneurs.

2-3           Provide entrepreneurial assistance programs with
              emphasis on new business development (i.e., evaluation
              of technical feasibility, market evaluation,
              production costs, financial viability, and general
              business and management advice). … 


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