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Federal science & engineering support to universities declines

July 20, 2017

At least 1,016 academic institutions across the U.S.  received federal support for a range of science and engineering functions in FY 2015, according to the latest survey from National Science Foundation. While the total was up slightly from the 1,003 institutions reported in the previous year, NSF also found that larger community divided a federal pie that was 3 percent or $900 million less than 2014, in constant dollars.  The FY 2015 total figure of $27,747 million was 6 percent less than the 2012 total of $29,580 million, also in constant dollars. 

Not all of the largest federal agencies cut their funding obligations. As the accompanying table reveals, the Department of Energy distributed 17 percent more funds to universities in 2015 than 2012. USDA and NASA obligations increased by 11.2 percent and 10 percent, respectively.  Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and NSF all cut their contributions to the nation’s academic research enterprise.

The report also identifies the 20 universities that captured the most federal obligations for FY 2015. Nineteen of the 20 are repeat performers from FY 2014, NSF reports; MIT replaced Cornell University this year. Together, these 20 accounted for 36 percent of all S&E obligations in FY 2015:

1.       Johns Hopkins

2.       University of Washington

3.       University of Michigan

4.       University of California, San Diego

5.       University of California, San Francisco

6.       University of Pennsylvania

7.       Stanford University

8.       Columbia University in the City of New York

9.       University of California, Los Angeles

10.    University of Pittsburgh

11.    Harvard University

12.    Duke University

13.    University of Colorado, Boulder

14.    University of Wisconsin, Madison

15.    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

16.    Washington University, Saint Louis

17.    University of Minnesota

18.    Yale University

19.    Pennsylvania State University

20.    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Compiled by the NSF National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics each year, the Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions captures obligations across six categories:

research and development (R&D) (89% of total annual federal academic S&E obligations over the past 4 years);

  • R&D plant;
  • facilities and equipment for instruction in S&E;
  • fellowships, traineeships, and training grants;
  • general support for S&E; and,
  • other S&E activities.


higher ed, r&d