While the Midwest was a driving force in the 20th century that helped power the rest of the nation, today it’s a vast expanse of rusting manufacturing industries and emptied urban centers.
For James Duderstadt, University president emeritus, the goal is to put the Midwest back on the map. To do this, Duderstadt wrote a recent report outlining the need for a knowledge-based economy and calling for colleges and universities in the region to help propell the heartland into the 21st century.
The report, titled “A Master Plan for Higher Education in the Midwest: A Roadmap for the Future of the Nation’s Heartland,” was released on March 31 by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs and published as one of the council’s Heartland Papers, which focuses on development in the Midwest.
Duderstadt, who is also chair of the Millenium Project — a research center focused on the ways technology impacts society — explains in the report that higher education institutions can act together to encourage economic growth in the Midwest by applying aspects of the region to a global mindset, collaborating instead of competing and having educators from K-12 to higher education work together.
Midwestern states should unite and get out of a state-focused mindset so the area can have a greater presence on the world stage, Duderstadt wrote in the report.
Collaboration is key to the region’s success, Duderstadt wrote. If education institutions shared facilities and made degrees easily transferrable, universities and colleges could provide high quality education at a lower cost, he wrote. In his report, Duderstadt referenced a European system — the “Bologna Process,” which standardized education programs across states — as a successful model.
Duderstadt’s plan asserts that administrators need to remain dedicated to all levels of education from kindergarten through continued education and recognize the success and shortcomings at each stage to make improvements.
According to Duderstadt’s report, taking these steps can help make the Midwest an active player on a global level.
Duderstadt acknowledged that while manufacturing and agricultural industries will still exist, they will not be the primary force for Midwestern economies in the future. The new force lies in knowledge and the ability to produce change, Duderstadt said in an interview with The Michigan Daily this week.
“(The Midwest) was successful in the 20th century because it was big,” he said. “Big companies, big unions, big universities, big government, but that’s not the way the world works anymore … now it’s about agility.”
By expanding an educated workforce in the Midwest, Duderstadt and other researchers believe the region can emulate successful cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, where knowledge-based industries, including trade and financial services, thrive.
Lou Glazer, the president of Michigan Future Inc. — a non-profit organization centered on promoting a knowledge-based workforce in the state — generated some of the research in Duderstadt’s report.
“To be successful, you have to make this transition to the knowledge economy,” Glazer said. “In making that transition, you have to support your higher education system, particularly your research universities.”
According to Duderstadt, the University is making the right moves by focusing on research and innovation. However, the University neglects areas outside Ann Arbor, Duderstadt said.
“I don’t think we’re deeply enough engaged across the Midwest,” he said. “I think sometimes we think of our peers to be more like Harvard and Stanford, and I think there are a great many reasons to rethink that, and see that our collaborations with other (Midwestern universities) are terribly important to those regions.”
However, state colleges and universities in the Midwest also face the challenge of diminishing state funding, Duderstadt said.
“When I first arrived at (the University of Michigan), we would drive a truck up to Lansing once a week and fill it up with money, and then we would drive it back down and run a University,” he joked. “Now there’s no point in driving it up there because there’s no money there.”
The Michigan state government faces a $1.8 billion deficit. In recent years, state funding to Michigan’s public colleges and universities has continued to dwindle, with a 2.8-percent reduction for the fiscal year 2011. The trend of higher education cuts will most likely continue the next fiscal year, since Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing a 15-percent cut to higher education institutions.
John Austin, director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, said Duderstadt’s report illustrates the economic importance of higher learning institutions. But for a majority of taxpayers, state colleges and universities aren’t a priority, Austin said.
One of the University’s strengths that the institution should capitalize on is attracting world-class talent, Duderstadt said.
“There are (a) lot of places that are good at educating people from Michigan, but not a lot that can educate people from all over the world,” he said. “This one can.”
According to Juliana Kerr Viohl, director of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Duderstadt’s report has been the most downloaded paper in the series of Heartland Papers. She said the council is non-partisan and doesn’t advocate for policy change directly, but instead tries to make sure information on policy assessments are spread widely.
“We just make sure the papers are in the right hands and that they are available,” Viohl said. “And we hope that people use the information and the resources as a springboard for action.”