Science Foundation Arizona gave $4 million Friday to the three public universities to attract the brightest graduate students to the state.
Arizona State University is getting $1.85 million. Another $1.7 million is going to the University of Arizona, with $400,000 for Northern Arizona University.
Bill Harris, president of the nonprofit organization, said the grants are the first step by the group, formed last year, to meet the goal of making Arizona more competitive in scientific, engineering and medical research. He said that starts with getting the best graduate students to come here.
Harris said he believes that programs at the three state universities are at least as good as those anywhere.
But Harris said private universities have more cash to court new graduate students, both with stipends as well as cash for their specialized research projects.
“We’re creating an almost level playing ground for our public universities with respect to the best private universities in the United States,” he said.
What the dollars will buy depends on each program.
Andrew Comrie, dean of the graduate college at the University of Arizona, said his school’s share should finance 35 new students. He echoed Harris’ beliefs that money is a great equalizer.
“One of the toughest things to do is when a state university which has great programs competes with the big brand-name Ivy (League) universities. Of course you want to be able to bring the very best students here that are the cream of the crop, nationally and internationally,” he said.
“This kind of award can, if you set it up right, can make not only the science that the student can do here good, but also, of course, the financial package they can get.”
He acknowledged that the idea of paying for graduate students might sound foreign — especially to others in graduate programs who have to dig into their wallets to pay tuition and fees.
But Comrie said that’s just the reality of the situation.
“The best graduate students, like the very best undergraduate students, get their way paid through college,” he said.
Comrie said all three universities will be using their funds pretty much the same way: a stipend for the student plus research and travel funds and extra money for their second year.
The grant funds are aimed at some narrow areas of study: advanced communications and information technology, biosciences, and “sustainable systems,” including water.
The foundation’s $2.5 million in basic operations costs will be financed for its first five years by Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff 40. Last year lawmakers approved $35 million in public funds for grants.
Other funds are being earmarked for future grants, including providing “seed” money for technology companies and special internships for high school science and math teachers this summer.