April 16, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 117—University-state collaboration, and community futures

A new statewide survey commissioned as part of the Indiana University Grand Challenges program reveals that three out of four Hoosiers agree universities in Indiana have a responsibility to help improve their surrounding communities. Survey respondents also overwhelmingly support universities partnering with policymakers and government officials, with 74% saying they want to see increased collaboration between Indiana's government officials and state universities when it comes to initiatives that strengthen and improve Hoosier communities. As part of its Grand Challenges program, IU has been partnering with the business community, local officials, nonprofit organizations and state government leaders since 2016 to address some of the state's most pressing issues. This includes advancing medical research, seeking solutions to the addictions crisis and developing responses to environmental change. The Grand Challenges program is at work in every county across Indiana with more than 200 collaborative partners. Additionally, more than 130 faculty, non-tenure track faculty, postdocs, research scientists, associates, fellows, have been hired through the initiative which also has provided expert-guided, hands-on learning experiences for 175 graduate students. According to the survey, the power of university-driven research is especially valuable to Hoosiers, with four out of five believing that medical research could be improved by collaboration between universities and state government. Additionally, 86% of Hoosiers feel it's important for universities in Indiana to lead medical research to identify and develop new treatments and cures for debilitating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's. Furthermore, seven out of 10 participants agree that universities are critical to Indiana's effort to combat public issues including addiction, and even more believe it's important for policymakers and universities to collaborate on efforts to solve Indiana's addictions crisis. Nearly three in four believe that efforts between policymakers, local government officials and universities have the power to help Indiana communities become more resilient to environmental changes, and finally, three out of four Hoosiers surveyed said they support state funding for universities that are addressing big challenges to the state of Indiana. IU’s Vice President for Research Fred Cate says as the university continues to make strides in addressing the critical problems that Hoosiers face, IU’s model of collaboration can serve as an example of what is possible.

In other news, despite many challenges Indiana communities have faced in recent years, a new survey finds that 85% of local elected officials are optimistic about their communities’ futures. Still, they report there are many concerns left to address, including drug abuse, internet access, economic inequality, and affordable housing, among many others. The findings come from the 2020 Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations Survey conducted by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. The survey helps Indiana policymakers better understand the wide array of challenges local governments face. Two-thirds of officials identified overall economic conditions as a major or moderate problem, and nearly one-third said conditions had worsened during the past year. Two-thirds also reported that economic inequality was a major or moderate issue. A lack of affordable housing was also a critical challenge in 2020, with 74% of respondents listing it as a major or moderate issue. In fact, local leaders selected affordable housing most often as their top priority to address during the next two years. Internet connectivity also remains a real barrier for many Hoosiers, one that has worsened since the last survey in 2017. More than two-thirds of local leaders said both having high-speed internet/broadband service and having reliable, affordable service were problems in their communities. Addressing internet access was listed among the top five priority issues for communities to address in the next two years. Drug abuse also remains a significant problem. In fact, 94% of local officials listed it as a major or moderate problem in their community. Drug abuse was listed more than any other condition as having worsened in the past year. The issue ranked fifth among the top 10 issues leaders said were most important to work on during the next two years. Lastly, 32% of officials said the condition of their local roads and streets had improved in the past year. However, 63% still said road conditions are a major or moderate problem, and many officials chose the issue as one that is important to work on during the next two years.