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Useful Stats: 2020 Higher Ed R&D by state and research field

March 03, 2022
By: Colin Edwards

Building on previous SSTI analysis showing that Higher Education Research & Development (HERD) expenditures increased across the U.S. despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this edition of Useful Stats examines the distribution of R&D spending among the various fields of research at the nation’s colleges and universities. Specifically, this analysis examines 2020 HERD expenditures by state and field of research, finding that the life sciences continued to dominate academic R&D activity, accounting for 57.5 percent ($49.6 billion) of total HERD spending. Engineering was the second most funded research field in 2020, accounting for 15.9 percent ($13.7 billion) of the national total. The third most funded research field was physical sciences, accounting for 6.6 percent ($5.7 billion) of total U.S. HERD expenditures.

Life science within academic R&D activity leads state level performance as well as nationally. As seen in the interactive image below, the life sciences field accounted for the greatest share of total HERD spending in every state except Alaska where the geoscience, atmospheric sciences, and ocean sciences field ranked first in 2020. The states where life sciences R&D accounted for the outsized shares of total HERD expenditures in 2020 were Missouri (79.3 percent), followed by Connecticut (79.0 percent), Kentucky (77.3 percent), Vermont (74.0 percent), and Arkansas (72.8 percent). The life sciences accounted for the lowest percentages of total HERD spending in Arizona (38.7 percent), Nevada (38.5 percent), Delaware (32.9 percent), Maine (32.4 percent), and Alaska (20.8 percent) – still large shares of the states’ academic R&D portfolios.

Hover the cursor over states and pie charts to see additional details.

The interactive map above also shows that the engineering field accounted for the second greatest share of total HERD expenditures in 2020. HERD expenditures in engineering reached $13.7 billion nationally in 2020, accounting for 15.9 percent of total HERD spending. The states that had the greatest shares of engineering HERD spending were Utah (31.6 percent), Delaware (31.3 percent), Maryland (29.1 percent), Georgia (27.6 percent), and Kansas (24.9 percent). The states where engineering accounted for the lowest percentages of HERD expenditures in 2020 were the District of Columbia (8.5 percent), Vermont (8.0 percent), Connecticut (6.1 percent), Oregon (5.8 percent), and Hawaii (5.2 percent).

The interactive image below provides additional details on the composition of R&D expenditures by research field for each state, including all fields. Hover the cursor over elements of the pie charts to show field details.


Click here for the data used in this analysis.

useful stats, higher ed, r&d