Higher ed earmarks explored

The Chronicle of Higher Education is out with a report today that says spending via earmarks — some call it “pork” — for higher education institutions has increased by 25 percent.

The report says the earmarks are given out as grants, often for research, even though the projects haven’t been reviewed by “knowledgeable scientists.”

Says the report:

The dirty little secret about earmarks for science is that while college officials occasionally fret about them in public, they chase them in private. At meetings of the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 research institutions, some presidents regularly complain that earmarks are squeezing out peer-reviewed awards — “and then they go home and call up their congressman to ask for an earmark,” said one president, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be free to discuss the meetings.

Minnesota, however, is not a heavy hitter when it comes to “academic pork.” That distinction — at least regionally — belongs to North Dakota, which ranks ninth in the country in the amount of grants. Wisconsin ranks 32nd, and Minnesota 44th.

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North Dakota State University ranks sixth in the nation in receipts, and the University of North Dakota is eighth.

The Minnesota projects in the report:

Institution Agency Amount What for?
Bemidji State University Health & Human Services $238,755 A baccalaureate nurse-training program.
Bemidji State University Education $335,043 Equipment for an applied-research center for manufacturing.
College of St. Scholastica HHS $242,685 Rural-health technology demonstration project.
Metropolitan State University Education $478,492 Workforce Diversity Needs in Urban Nursing program.

Minnesota State University at Mankato

Minnesota West Community and Technical College

Energy $492,000 Cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel research at Minnesota Center for Renewable Energy.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System Office Education $1,099,451 Rapid employment services for veterans.
University of Minnesota at Crookston Agriculture $372,375 Support of agricultural diversity in the Red River corridor.
University of Minnesota Duluth Agriculture $4,840,875 for 10 universities Research new uses for forest resources through the Wood Utilization Research program.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Energy $787,200 Ecologically friendly design elements for the Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Agriculture $219,453 Uniform Farm Management Program at the Center for Farm Financial Management.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities HHS $283,951 Helath-care-related construction, renovation, and equipment.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Defense $2,400,000 Develop technologies for advanced hypersonic research.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Transportation $3,234,000 Transportation-research center
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Transportation $808,500 Support for the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities HHS $406,767 Facilities and equipment for the Hormel’s Institute’s cancer research.
Winona State University Justice $775,500 Training, technical assistance and publication at the National Child Protection Training Center.
Winona State University Transportation $87,521 Replace three at-grade highway railroad crossings adjacent to the campus.
Winona State University Transportation $554,400 Replace three at-grade highway railroad crossings adjacent to the campus.
Winona State University Justice $446,500 Teach investigators and prosecutors the science of interviewing children victimized by abuse.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Norm Coleman both have 13 projects, Rep. Tim Walz has seven, Rep. Jim Oberstar and Rep. Betty McCollum have 3 and Rep. Collin Peterson has two.

The tone of the report from the Center, of course, is negative. Are these worthwhile projects? Many of the people I’m calling today don’t care for the term “earmarks,” because — like pork — it has a negative connotation. They say the programs are valuable. I’m calling many of the recipients to get more information about what the money is used for and you can decide. Be sure to check back!

The List:

Bemidji State. $238,755- According to Gwen Verchota, who runs the nursing program, they’re setting up a four-year degree program for nursing. The money will go to curriculum development and also for renovations to Memorial Hall, to create a clinic. It’s hoped the program will help ease a nursing shortage, especially in rural areas where nurses have to know a broad spectrum of things, unlike, she says, cities where specialty teams are used for specific functions (like inserting an IV, for example).

MN State U at Mankato/Minn West Community and Technical College — Two new energy fields are requiring trained employees: wind and ethanol. The $492,000 the two institutions are sharing have created a “first in the nation” training program for ethanol technicians (people to work in the ethanol plans) and wind energy technicians, according to Melinda Voss, at MnSCU. The first class graduated a year ago.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System $1.1 million. MnSCU is setting up a program to help veterans re-enter the workforce. According to a news release, the project “will provide specifically designed career and education services to military veterans, National Guard members and reservists, as well as enhancing veterans’ employment success upon returning to their communities.”

Winona State University – From the same release, the more than $1 million in several grants is being used “to create model undergraduate and graduate curricula and train front-line child protection professionals. The center also will teach investigators and prosecutors the science of interviewing children victimized by abuse. In its first year, the center has trained about 8,000 investigators and prosecutors in 18 states and provided technical assistance for more than 300 child protection cases around the country.” A 2003 story on the effort is here, and a grant request synopsis is here.

Incidentally, the National Journal’s CongressDaily reports (according to a reader) the House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Henry Waxman, is investigating why the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded grants in fiscal year 2007 to programs (like the $500,000 to the World Golf Foundation) that were ranked lower than other competing interests.

Says the article:


Waxman said the situation was brought to light by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a freshman who complained that a worthy applicant in his district was unfairly shut out of the grant-making process in FY07. An aide to Walz said his interest was piqued when OJJDP ignored a request to direct money to the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, even though it ranked fourth out of more than 100 applicants in the agency’s review. The center trains social workers, teachers, nurses, police officers and others to detect and respond to signs of child abuse. The funding was dropped when the OJJDP administrator made the final decisions. Walz and other Minnesota lawmakers successfully restored about $1.2 million for the center in the FY08 omnibus appropriations bill, including $446,000 funded through OJJDP.

Specially, the investigation is looking at OJJDP Administrator Robert Flores, who Waxman said decided to award grants to certain favored organizations regardless of how competitive bids ranked.

Bell Museum (U of M) – $787,200. While technically separate, the money is part of a $36 million drive to build a new museum on the St. Paul campus. Director Scott Lanyon says it will help pay for a variety of research and development on using energy “in an efficient way,” and meet Minnesota’s sustainable building guidelines. The Legislature is being asked to appropriate $24 million. As far as earmarks go, Lanyon says, “it’s not to say that the system can’t be abused, but it’s a way of getting funding when there doesn’t appear to be a program available.”

U of M – $2.4 million for advanced hypersonic research. The specific dedication of this money is not yet clear (it’s the Defense Department, you know), but the center works on such issues as figuring out how to make a jet fly at Mach 15. The U of M helped develop an air inlet for the scramjet, an engine that operates at speeds like a rocket, but which collects air from the atmosphere to do so. Many of the calculations required in such projects need supercomputers to be able to process the information.

U of M – $219,453 from the Dept. of Ag for the Uniform Farm Management Program. Kevin Klair, who runs the program at the Center for Farm Financial Management, says until the U created a system for year-end financial analysis, individual states had entirely different methods of processing data. Now, he says, that’s been standardized so farmers can compare costs and other items to those in other states at www.finbin.umn.edu. “A farmer can look at, for example, import costs and say ‘I’m not doing too bad,’ or look at veterinary costs and say, ‘I wonder why I’m so high,’ and begin to analyze.” The U has recently expanded the program to provide more data on organic farming. “Now we have over 100 organic farmers participating and if farmers wants to consider organic farming, they can look at get hard data,” says Klair.

U of M/Center for Excellence in Rural Safety -$808,500. Originally funded through a transportation bill in 2005, the money funds the work of the center, administered by the Humphrey Institute. The center does research and outreach education on rural safety, according to its director, Lee Munnich . Three-quarters of the public roadways are in rural areas, one-fifth of the population lives in rural areas, but about 60% of the fatal crashes occur on rural roads. The Center looks a variety of issues, including human behaviors. Why do drivers in rural Minnesota, for example, tend not to wear seat belts? The Center also focuses on public policy issues such as primary seat belts laws, graduated license laws and assesses what states are doing on problems such as speeding and drunken driving.

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