• Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

Useful Stats: 2020 Higher Ed R&D expenditures increased in most states despite pandemic

January 13, 2022
By: Colin Edwards

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and recession, most states experienced growth in annual Higher Education Research & Development (HERD) expenditures between 2019 and 2020. Given higher education’s role in generating knowledge that catalyzes innovative new technologies developed by high-growth startups, R&D conducted at institutions of higher education is one of the most important metrics for evaluating an area’s innovation economy. This edition of Useful Stats examines data from NSF’s recently updated 2020 HERD survey, specifically examining one- and 10-year changes in HERD spending by state.

National HERD expenditures in 2020 increased by 3.3 percent ($2.8 billion) over 2019, reaching a total of $86.3 billion. The states with the greatest total HERD expenditures in 2020 were California ($10.9 billion), New York ($7.2 billion), Texas ($6.6 billion), Pennsylvania ($4.8 billion), and Maryland ($4.8 billion). The states with the lowest total HERD expenditures in 2020 were Idaho ($170.6 million), Maine ($151.3 million), Puerto Rico ($111.1 million), South Dakota ($110.6 million), and Wyoming ($93.1 million).

However, examining the annual changes in HERD spending by state provides more context regarding the impacts of the pandemic on regional innovation economies. The interactive map below shows that most states saw increased HERD spending in 2020 (shaded in gray), while several others had decreases (shaded in red) in HERD expenditures from 2019 to 2020.

As seen in the interactive map below, the states with the largest percent increase in annual HERD expenditures from 2019 to 2020 were Vermont (39.7 percent), Wyoming (15.8 percent), Oklahoma (13.2 percent), Texas (10.9 percent), and Delaware (6.6 percent). The interactive map also shows that Puerto Rico had the greatest annual decrease (-8.2 percent) in HERD expenditures, followed by South Dakota (-6.6 percent), Mississippi (-5.4 percent), New Hampshire (-1.6 percent), Hawaii (-1.0 percent), Michigan (-0.8 percent), and North Carolina (-0.1 percent).

Pro tip: Hover the cursor over a state in the map to reveal more information and 10-year trends.

This analysis also examines the 10-year (2011-2020) trends in total and annual changes in HERD expenditures by state to help characterize the most recent annual changes as they relate to the pandemic. As seen in the interactive chart below, total annual HERD expenditures (green bars linked to the left axis) continually increased at the national level from 2011 to 2020, with an average annual percent change in HERD expenditures of 3.5 percent for the 10-year period.

However, the rate of annual change (gray bars linked to the right axis) has not been as consistent. The chart shows that the first part of the decade generally saw relatively slow growth after the high growth of 2011, followed by higher growth rates from 2016 to 2019. However, growth in national HERD expenditures slowed again in 2020 despite the overall increase in total dollars spent.

Exploring the interactive charts below shows that many states also saw decreased growth rates in their annual HERD expenditures for 2020 compared to previous years, although these figures are more sensitive to state-specific variables such as population. That is, smaller dollar increases in HERD spending in states with smaller populations — and therefore fewer institutions of higher education and lower levels of total HERD spending — may equate to more dramatic rates of annual growth/loss.

The interactive visualization below combines the previous two for an additional tool to compare multiple states in a single view. Hold ‘Ctrl’ while clicking on multiple states to add them to the comparative view. Hovering the cursor over states in the map and over bars in the chart will also provide additional details. To reset the view, click on the empty “ocean” space or reload the webpage.


Click here for the data used in this analysis.

useful stats, higher ed, r&d