Unstable Funding

Universities that have faculty who teach, and students who learn, industrial hygiene have been observing the political situation in the United States with alarm. For several years, industrial hygiene programs have enjoyed financial support from NIOSH in the form of Education and Research Centers (ERCs) and, to a lesser extent, Training Program Grants (TPGs). Most of the NIOSH funding has supported students in occupational safety and health programs through tuition and modest stipends to obtain their master’s or doctoral degrees. Table 1 lists the 18 ERCs across the country and eight universities that have current Training Program Grants.

The game changer that may be looming is the possible elimination or significant reduction of the ERC and TPG funding. The Obama administration had recommended eliminating NIOSH-funded ERCs (to bring down the national debt), but lobbying from several professional associations (including AIHA and ACGIH) and letters of support from “friends of NIOSH” to congressional leaders in several states helped reinstate it. Under the Trump administration, the tide may be too great for NIOSH to continue to fund the ERCs. The TPG money comes from a different federal pot, but it may be in jeopardy as well.
Most likely, ERC and TPG funding challenges will happen in the federal government’s 2018 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2017. Faculty and students who are supported by NIOSH ERCs and TPGs are anxious because, in many instances, they are the main source of funding for occupational safety and health programs, particularly industrial hygiene programs. If NIOSH funding is cut to the universities, many universities may discontinue their industrial hygiene programs because they may not have the funds, commitment, or understanding to sustain these programs or their faculty. It is a little-known fact that if you don’t have students to teach in a particular area, such as industrial hygiene, the program can be eliminated, which could result in the termination of tenured faculty. With universities under pressure to cut budgets, these programs are easy targets.
If you don’t have students to teach in a particular area, such as industrial hygiene, the program can be eliminated, which could result in the termination of tenured faculty.
Are Industrial Hygiene Programs at Academic Institutions in Danger of Elimination?
The U.S. is the third most populous country at roughly 325 million people, behind China (1.4 billion people) and India (1.2 billion people), and we have the world’s largest economy. America is a world leader because of its economic engine, including its 131 million workers. Safety and health in the workplace is not only a legal requirement, it is an economic advantage, in the form of productivity, quality, and technology. These laws and our ability to create and produce some of the best products on earth help sustain us as leaders of the free world.
However, educating and training students in occupational safety and health, especially industrial hygiene, is a challenge at universities. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) evaluates programs in industrial hygiene and gives its seal of approval that the learning objectives are being taught to these students and that they will have a fundamental understanding of the principles of the profession. (A full list of ABET-accredited graduate and undergraduate academic institutions in industrial hygiene is available
.) NIOSH recognizes the value of ABET accreditation, as do AIHA and ACGIH. But ABET accreditation has costs that the university must pay, not only for the initial accreditation but for the reaccreditation process.
In addition, considerable effort by faculty and staff is required to put together a package and maintain it (including annual reports) for the ABET review teams. From the point of view of the unit head (and of faculty who are up for tenure or promotion), this work can take away from the time faculty could be working on research proposals to bring in funding. If the unit head doesn’t acknowledge the importance of ABET accreditation, faculty could be facing an uphill battle not only for ABET accreditation but their future at that institution.
The unit head might also decide that purchasing a booth at AIHce is an unnecessary expense. This is the case at Purdue, where I spent the last 16 years of my industrial hygiene career and which will not have a booth at AIHce EXP 2017 in Seattle this year. Purdue may not be alone in the challenge for sustaining industrial hygiene programs. Other academic programs may be in a similar situation.
The creation of OSHA and NIOSH in the early 1970s generated great demand for industrial hygiene academic programs. This included the need for faculty to educate and train students, and for students to graduate and become industrial hygiene professionals. The retirements of many experienced industrial hygiene faculty have left a void of talent and experience. The elimination of the ERC and TPG programs would further erode the opportunities of sustaining and building quality programs.
The problems are serious, but the millennial generation represents a huge opportunity for the profession. Today, according to the Pew Research Foundation, millennials outnumber every other group in the workplace, including baby boomers and generation Xers. Recruiting millennials to the profession will be challenging, but the reward will be worth the effort. Millennials are smart, connected, driven, and dedicated. For them, work has to have purpose. There is no better profession than the practice of industrial hygiene with the purpose of preserving the health and safety of workers. We need to sell the millennial generation on the merits and rewards of the profession, just as we must also sell university administrators on ABET accreditation, on students’ demand for industrial hygiene courses, and on the need for new faculty to fill the ranks of the retiring baby boomers who carried the profession forward. Finally, our profession must recognize that occupational safety and health is a critical factor for any company’s business model. America is not only the land of opportunity, but a place that uses safety and health to preserve its most precious resource: the workers.
Table I.
List of NIOSH Education and Research Centers (ERCs) and Training Program Grant (TPG) Institutions
Education and Research Centers:
Alabama Education and Research Center California Education and Research Center – Northern California Education and Research Center – Southern Central Appalachian Region Educational Research Center Cincinnati Education and Research Center Colorado Education and Research Center Harvard Education and Research Center Illinois Education and Research Center Iowa Education and Research Center Johns Hopkins Education and Research Center Michigan Education and Research Center Minnesota Education and Research Center New York/New Jersey Education and Research Center North Carolina Education and Research Center South Florida Education and Research Center Texas Education and Research Center Utah Education and Research Center Washington Education and Research Center
Training Program Grants (Industrial Hygiene):
Montana Tech of the University of Montana Purdue University Tulane University University of Arizona University of Massachusetts, Lowell University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center University of Puerto Rico University of Toledo West Virginia University
Other Training Program Grants exist for occupational medicine, occupational safety, and allied safety and health programs.
American Board of Industrial Hygiene: “
ABET Accredited IH Programs
Continuing Education Contacts
NIOSH Extramural Research and Training Programs
Pew Research Foundation: “
Millennials Surpass Gen Xers as the Largest Generation in U.S. Labor Force
” (May 2015).
is professor emeritus of Industrial Hygiene and Ergonomics at Purdue University. He can be reached at