A study of federal academic earmarks and research funding in relation to the institutional research culture of research university/high (RU/H) institutions in Mississippi

James Hubert Young III, University of Southern Mississippi

Abstract

Nationally, reductions in public funding for higher education, a stagnate economy, looming sequestration, and a divisive political culture present a complex and challenging dynamic for research universities in pursuit of external funding for their research programs and infrastructure needs. These universities and their research initiatives have relied on significant federal investment in research and development as a source of competitive research funding for more than half a century. Over the last thirty years, congressionally directed funding for research, referred to in the study presented here and throughout the literature as academic earmarks, emerged as an alternative means to achieve research funding for institutions of higher education exclusive of the traditional, peer-review award system. The state of Mississippi and its public universities have benefited significantly from this alternative research funding mechanism. Since the cessation of the practice in 2010, the research universities in the state have been forced to adapt to a new reality - one without congressionally directed funding. This qualitative study explored the influence of academic earmarking on the institutional research culture of the research extensive universities in Mississippi by describing the attitudes, opinions, and practices of those individuals who shape that culture. Interviews were conducted with government representatives, university research administration officials, and research active faculty at the four RU/H institutions in the state that have been involved with the procurement of external funding for research. Data collected in interviews were analyzed for themes. The data analysis identified ten common themes in the opinions, attitudes, and practices of study participants as they relate to the influence of federal funding and academic earmarks specifically on the institutional research culture and infrastructure at the RU/H universities in Mississippi. Further, this study identified participants' views on the prevailing factors, benefits, and detrimental effects associated with the 2010 congressional moratorium on earmarks, as well as expected trends in federal research funding in the coming years. Study findings suggested that academic earmarks have influenced the institutional research culture of the research extensive universities in Mississippi.