Bob Samuels delivers a number of points into this posting and I’m only going to deal with one: the idea that there should be a ”major emphasis on making sure that federal research grants receive enough overhead funding (indirect costs) to make them at least break even.”
I think Mr. Samuels and I agree that undergraduate tuition is subsidizing research, but I’m guessing we differ on the mechanism. He is probably using the old cheap Sugar Daddy model, the one that seems to be quite popular around schools these days. This is the one that says the schools are forced to boost tuition because the Sugar Daddy isn’t giving them enough cash. If the state or federal government would just recognize the value of the research, then they would turn the spigots back on.
It looks very different to me. I see a university system in great demand by parents who desperately want to make sure their kids are in the middle class. That makes them easy targets for fee increases because they just don’t blink when the prices go up. The easy loan money just fuels the desire.
The research game is different. The fanciest proposals stand the best chances and the easiest way to get a fancy proposal is to do much of the work in advance with another stash of cash. Then you use the grant money to fund the next project. Provosts often talk about “investing” in an area of research because they think the government will shower it with cash in the future. And so they take any excess cash from the undergraduates and use it to jumpstart their research. I’ve heard one professor from a tech college lament the fact that his chums can’t milk the liberal arts students like the balanced universities.
If you add in the fact that the professors are chosen for their love of research and promoted based largely upon their success getting grants, it only follows that the professors will take any excess cash around the place and use it for research.
So I don’t think that it will make a darn bit of difference for the grant giving agencies to magically dump another N% on the schools. The professors will keep using the tuition money because that’s how they stay competitive in the granting process.