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Indicator IV-10 Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges & Universities
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Updated (7/28/2010).

The NSF has been surveying the nation’s public and private colleges and universities concerning their expenditures on science and engineering R&D since 1972. In 2003, the foundation began seeking information on R&D in fields other than the sciences and engineering, including the humanities. The expenditures considered in the NSF survey are for both “sponsored research,” which is subsidized by federal and nonfederal agencies and organizations, and “university research,” which is separately budgeted under an internal application of institutional funds (see the NSF survey questionnaire).

While they are the best available, these data underestimate the size of the national investment in college- and university-based humanities research. They do not capture two key forms of financial support for humanities faculty wishing to pursue research. These are: (1) leave from teaching and (2) fellowship monies used by faculty to cover both living expenses (when leave from teaching is without pay) and research-related costs (e.g., source materials and travel). Additionally, the NSF surveys only institutions that perform science and engineering R&D. Thus, the activities of institutions that do not perform science and engineering R&D but that may conduct substantial amounts of research in humanistic fields are not included in the NSF sample. Finally, some universities responding to the academic R&D survey reported only their science and engineering expenditures. For these reasons, the figures supplied here should be treated as “lower-bound” estimates of total investment in academic humanities research.

Because of relatively low response rates to the survey’s new humanities-related items in 2003 and 2004, the data reported here are only for years 2005 and beyond. As Figure IV-10a shows, between 2005 and 2008, college and university spending on humanities research steadily rose from approximately $218 to $254 million, an increase of 16%. But as the figure also reveals, monies dedicated to humanities research were dwarfed by those spent on research in engineering and the medical and biological sciences. When expenditures in all the scientific and engineering disciplines are considered (including agricultural science and others not depicted in Figure IV-10a), 2008 spending on humanities research amounted to 0.49% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering R&D.

Figure IV-10a, Full Size
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Figure IV-10b depicts the proportion of reported research expenditures subsidized by the federal government over the 2005–2008 time period. Whereas the federal share of all humanities R&D dollars was roughly one-third in 2005, by 2006 this share had dropped to approximately one-quarter. Although a decline in the federal share of research funding was felt by most fields in this year, the drop experienced by the humanities was the largest (both in absolute and percentage terms) recorded for that year. This reduction is also notable in view of the fact that the federal share of humanities research dollars was already low compared to that of all other fields except business and management. The federal share of humanities funding remained near this reduced level through 2008.

Figure IV-10b, Full Size
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