On March 18, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2015, which aims to strengthen engineering programs at America's universities and better prepare students for jobs in manufacturing. The bill would provide funding for 25 designated "Manufacturing Universities." Each of the selected schools would receive $20 million over a period of four years, with the goal of better aligning engineering programs with the needs of modern manufacturing, building new partnerships with manufacturing firms, growing training opportunities, and fostering manufacturing entrepreneurship.
Universities would apply for the designation through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce. The program would be run by the Director of the NIST, in coordination with the Secretaries of Defense and Energy, and the Director of the National Science Foundation.
Sponsors of the Senate bill (S. 771) include Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). House bill (H.R. 1441) sponsors are Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Chris Collins (R-NY), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Paul Tonko (D-NY).
In a press release announcing the legislation, Senator Coons stressed the need for universities to prepare students for "success in manufacturing and contribute to the research and development that drives advanced manufacturing." Senator Coons cited the skills gap between manufacturing jobs and the available workforce and said that their bill will help "equip our next generation of engineers with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century."
This legislation has the endorsement of the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the National Tooling & Machining Association, The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Dow, DuPont, and Siemens, among others.
The Manufacturing Universities Act was previously introduced in both the House and Senate in the 113th Congress, but neither body took action on the legislation. The idea of creating "Manufacturing Universities" was originally proposed by ITIF President Robert Atkinson and ITIF Director of Global Innovation Policy Stephen Ezell in their January 2013 Brookings Institution research paper: "Cut to Invest: Support the Designation of 20 'U.S. Manufacturing Universities."