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Useful Stats: 10-year analysis of NSF EPSCoR state HERD, FY 2012-2021

April 06, 2023
By: Conor Gowder

This article was edited on April 19th, 2023, to correct for an error in the original data analysis.

The objective of the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is to help states receiving the least amount of federal research and development (R&D) funds within their postsecondary institutions improve their competitiveness for federal grants and awards. A measure of EPSCoR's effectiveness, then, is whether or not the state's academic research enterprise is capturing a larger share of federal R&D expenditures. This article utilizes data from the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) survey, analyzing the total and federal HERD dollars for the 25 current EPSCoR eligible states compared to those not eligible, finding: 1) EPSCoR states are not receiving proportionately more federal HERD dollars and 2) EPSCoR states have an extremely large variation of total HERD dollars between states, inclusive of both the highest grossing states as well as all three states experiencing a decrease.

The recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, also known as CHIPS+, put a freeze on NSF EPSCoR eligibility through fiscal year (FY) 2027, meaning that no new states or territories will be considered for EPSCoR funding through FY 2027. Thus, despite the dynamic nature of states’ qualification of EPSCoR eligibility, this article will explore only the 25 currently eligible states (this article will not explore territories) and their performance over the past decade of available data. (Note: some states may not have been eligible for all 10 years).

EPSCoR states, despite receiving less federal R&D funding, are still very comparable to their non-EPSCoR counterparts in terms of researcher talent, and are able to perform similarly in terms of grant-seeking, but do not have the same capacity for external collaborative networks, research assistants, and equipment and instruments, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago.[1] However, when comparing research productivity to federal research funding levels, EPSCoR states significantly outperform their non-EPSCoR counterparts in nearly all research productivity indicators.[2] With that being said, how have federal expenditures on postsecondary R&D changed over the past 10 years?

The above graphic shows the sum of all 25 current EPSCoR states’ federally funded HERD expenditures as columns, compared to EPSCoR states’ percent share of total federally funded HERD expenditures for the same year, from 2012 through 2021. The visual reveals that while the inflow of federal HERD dollars to EPSCoR states has been steadily increasing, EPSCoR states are not gaining any significant proportion. In other words, the increase in federal dollars for EPSCoR states is at most proportional to non-EPSCoR states, diverging from the expectation that EPSCoR states would receive an increasing proportion of dollars by virtue of federal EPSCoR dollars.

Over the past 10 years, the 25 EPSCoR states averaged a percent change of +29.06% in total postsecondary R&D expenditures, ranging from +101.37% (Nevada) to -22.19% (South Dakota). Twenty EPSCoR states experienced double digit growth, led by Nevada, Montana (+67.79%) and Vermont (+64.90%), while only two states grew by single digit amounts (Alaska, +7.98%; Mississippi, +3.17%) and three experienced decreases (Hawaii, -12.15%; Rhode Island -14.05%; South Dakota, -22.19%).

For comparison, the 25 non-EPSCoR states fared significantly better in terms of average growth over the last decade, with even the lowest growth state, Wisconsin, experiencing an increase of +19.37%. On average, non-EPSCoR states experienced a +38.16% change in total postsecondary R&D expenditures, ranging from +59.72% (Utah) to +19.37% (Wisconsin).

Having such a large difference between the ranges between the two sets (79.18% for EPSCoR and 40.35% for non-EPSCoR), but a very similar median growth (31.41% for EPSCoR and 33.66% for non-EPSCoR), means that there is a large difference in the distribution of the data.

The above graphic shows the 10-year percentage change in total HERD expenditures within each state, ordered from least to greatest, with a red bar indicating the national average for all states over the same time period. The left chart shows EPSCoR states, while the right shows non-EPSCoR states. A very clear visual difference can be immediately seen, with wide variation across EPSCoR states, including the three states experiencing a decrease in average HERD expenditures being designated as EPSCoR states.

Click here for the data used in this article.


[1] Wu, Y. (2020). Assessment of Scientists’ Research Capacity. In: America's Leaning Ivory Tower. SpringerBriefs in Political Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-18704-0_4

[2] Mohammadi, E., Olejniczak, A. J., Walker, G. E., & Nagarkatti, P. (2022, June 22). A Comparative Longitudinal Study of Research Outputs in EPSCoR versus Non-EPSCoR States. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/r6xdu

useful stats, nsf, higher ed, EPSCoR, trends