Examining Federal Spending by Michigan State University

By Julia Christensen, Michigan State University student

Large universities don’t just draw people, businesses, and resources to a community – they are often big spenders in their area. Most U.S. universities, like states and local governments, receive a good deal of federal grant money each year, especially for research and development purposes. And when universities spend federal dollars, there are often guidelines for how they can spend it.

Most important for disadvantaged or low-income communities, federal grants include clauses designate a percentage of the grant that must be spent with whom, specifically women- and minority-owned businesses.

Michigan State University (MSU) spends hundreds of millions on purchasing of all kinds, including federally funded research projects. The university recently took a pledge to do half of that purchasing (nearly $400 million worth) within the state of Michigan - great news for local women- and minority-owned businesses as it means the university will need to do a certain amount of that spending with them. A drawback is that a few years ago, MSU lost an extensive database of women- and minority-owned businesses to a computer system change and has since lacked the resources to rebuild it. MSU’s database, before it was lost, was available to the public and used by businesses, municipalities, and others, which had an even greater impact in local spending than the university itself.

This problem is compounded by the fact that there is no Minority Business Office or standard certification process in the state of Michigan. If an institution or business wishes or needs to direct its spending to specific types of businesses, it has no central resource to find them.

As part of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities Project, the Campus Network chapter at MSU set out to change that.

Since the core problem at the university level was the lack of a database – and the lack of resources to rebuild it – the Campus Network chapter, with grant money from the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network organization, hired an intern for the MSU purchasing department. The intern contacted businesses from MSU’s list of approved vendors to update their information. With the help of the new intern, the department was able to include a an optional questionnaire for women- and minority-owned businesses, and to input the information from any women- and minority-owned businesses contacted into a list which will form the basis of a new database.

Going forward we hope to continue rebuilding the database of women- and minority-owned businesses in Michigan, make it available to the public, and work with other Campus Network chapters to address the broader issue of Michigan’s lack of a minority business office and certification process.

This is an ongoing, local project to address a small slice of a larger national issue of equality, particularly with how our federal dollars are spent. For more about this project, please visit the MSU Roosevelt blog.