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University’s federal, local grants affected by struggling economy

April 2, 2009

In addition to the high local and national unemployment rates and national recession, the struggling economy is also affecting the number of grants that UW-River Falls and other universities are being awarded.

William Campbell, director of grants and research at UWRF, works with numerous external funding sources to help faculty and staff obtain this funding to support curriculum, programs and research. He said that the weak economy has affected both the process and the number of grants the University receives in many ways.

“Most of the grants we receive come from the federal government, with some from state and local sources,” he said. “In the past few months, the federal grant picture has gotten brighter, due in part to the [federal] stimulus package that was recently passed.”

Campbell also said that UWRF submits about 70 proposals each year, with more than half of those proposals actually resulting in grants.

“Generally speaking, this is on par with other colleges and universities across the region,” he said. “It’s hard at schools, like UWRF, where the faculty’s primary focus is teaching and not research; they often just don’t have a lot of time to research.”

Campbell said approximately two-thirds of the grants that the University receives come from federal sources, simply because “with the terrible budget situation, the state of Wisconsin can’t borrow money like the federal [government] can.”

The Office of Grants and Research publishes reports every year, and according to the annual report for 2007-08, UWRF submitted 66 proposals, totaling over $6 million in funding. Thirty-nine of those proposals were actually funded for a success rate of 61.9 percent. This is down slightly from 2006-07, where 44 proposals were funded for a total of $3.774 million.

“The state budget is not good right now, and foundations are suffering grievously,” Campbell said. “For example, the McKnight Foundation endowment is down about 30 percent this year, which means that they are probably giving out fewer grants.”

The Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation “seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. Through grantmaking, coalition-building and encouragement of strategic policy reform, we use our resources to attend, unite and empower those we serve,” according to its Web site. The Web site also contains annual reports for the foundation that show a slow decrease in the number of grants it has given out over the past few years: 462 in 2005, 454 in 2006 and 437 in 2007.

According to Tim Lyden, UWRF biology professor, the recently opened Tissue and Cellular Innovation Center (TCIC) was funded through a series of grants and awards over the past several years, even though the TCIC itself does not currently have specific operating expenses aside from the ongoing research program.

“Teaching activities of the TCIC either overlap with normal departmental teaching or will be covered by new federal grants,” he said in an e-mail interview. “The ‘grants-related’ awards that I mentioned above have been smaller amounts of funds from the administration in the form of ‘matching’ funds that are required by a granting agency to show that an institution is supportive of the efforts.”

Lyden said that the grant-related awards can be considered investments “to bring in much bigger amounts of money from outside the campus,” and that the TCIC also received a pair of in-house laboratory modification grants since 2004, which “remodeled space for several purposes that included activities by the TCIC.”

The goal of the TCIC all along has been to utilize local funding sources first, and then build the program to state-level funding and federal funding, Lyden said.

Since 2001, local funding directly supporting the TCIC (and previously the “Lyden Lab”) has totaled between $70,000 and $100,000.

“This year, with the transition to the new TCIC concept of my Lab, we have also shifted our grant funding efforts to the federal level with two major grants applied for to date and several more planned over the coming year,” he said. 

Lyden also noted that the funding for the TCIC is geared towards three major research projects, including one to develop artificial tissues from human cancerous tumors.

“This project is collaborative with UW-Stout, Marshfield Clinic, Aurora-Green Bay Medical Consortium and [the] River Falls Cancer Center, and seeks to explore the use of our tissue and engineering technology in a clinical context,” he said.

Even with a decreasing amount of funding and money for grants, Campbell reiterated the fact that the federal stimulus bill has improved the situation a bit.
“The national funding has really improved recently,” he said, “but the state and local picture is still dismal.”

Lyden said he agreed that the recently passed federal stimulus package has made more money available and increased the number of grants. However, he also said that, at the local level, University resources are tied to state funding issues which are going down fast.

“I expect that local campus funding will be nearly zero for the next few years,” he said. “Even in hard economic times, it takes investments to get returns, and so far the state’s investment in the comprehensive campuses has been very limited.”