A bipartisan group of senators, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., proposed legislation Wednesday that would designate 25 universities nationwide as “Manufacturing Universities” and provide increased funding for their engineering programs.
The act would give $5 million per year to each designated school for four years, on the condition that the schools meet goals related to the advancement of manufacturing technology.
“In Wisconsin, we can create stronger economic growth and shared prosperity for our state if we make investments in higher education and advanced manufacturing,” Baldwin said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will give students the ability to carry on our Wisconsin tradition of making things and help us build a stronger middle class in Wisconsin and America.”
If the bill is passed, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology will consider proposals from universities nationwide in order to determine which 25 will receive the designation, according to the statement.
UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee were two of the universities to endorse the proposal.
“I would say that [the endorsement is] more than just a signal of interest or good will,” said Tom Luljak, vice chancellor of University Relations and Communications at UW-Milwaukee. “I think Madison and Milwaukee signing onto this should be taken as a clear signal that we are prepared to use these resources wisely to help support the manufacturing industry here in Wisconsin.”
Ian Robertson, dean of UW-Madison’s College of Engineering, supported the bill in a letter to Baldwin’s office.
“We at UW-Madison, College of Engineering, have remained international leaders in advanced manufacturing research and have recently launched initiatives in this research area,” Robertson wrote. “This bill provides important new incentives that could allow us to expand and strengthen those initiatives for our students and industry partners.”
ASM Vice Chair Derek Field said he was concerned about what the designation could mean for UW-Madison students.
“I don’t think students not studying STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] related fields would directly suffer,” Field said. “This kind of proposal would just incentivize a shift in emphasis toward STEM students, but in the end it means that a lot less campus importance is placed upon non STEM majors.”
Three other senators introduced the bill with Baldwin, including one other Democrat and two Republicans. The bill awaits U.S. Senate committee action.