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Indicator IV-10 Research and Development (R&D) Expenditures at Colleges and Universities
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,".
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Updated (3/8/2013) with data for 2010 and 2011 and expanded with a figure displaying newly available data on the full array of sources for funding of academic R&D in the humanities (previously such data had been available only for science and engineering fields).

The NSF has been surveying the nation’s colleges and universities about their expenditures on science and engineering R&D since the early 1970s. In 2003, the NSF began seeking information on academic 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 outside entities (e.g., federal government agencies and private foundations), 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 because they do not capture two key forms of financial support for humanities faculty wishing to pursue research. These are: (1) university-supported leave from teaching (e.g., sabbaticals) and (2) fellowship monies used by faculty to cover both living expenses (when leave from teaching is without pay or at partial pay) and research-related costs (e.g., source materials and travel). Additionally, some universities that respond to the academic R&D survey report 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.1

Because of relatively low rates of response to the survey’s new humanities-related items in 2003 and 2004, the data reported here are for years 2005 and beyond. As Figure IV-10a shows, from 2005 to 2007, college and university spending on humanities research rose steadily from approximately $234 million to $272 million (all expenditure figures are given in 2012 dollars2), an increase of 16%. While the following year brought a decline, 2009 and 2010 saw minor increases and 2011 a more pronounced uptick that brought expenditures on humanities R&D to approximately $301 million. (Some of the apparent growth from 2010 to 2011 is attributable to the fact that the number of universities identified by NSF as eligible to participate in the survey increased from 742 in 2010 to 912 in 2011. For more information about this significant change to the survey, see the November 2012 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Info Brief, NSF 13-305). Expenditures in 2011 were 29% higher than in 2005. This level of growth is substantially greater than that observed in many science fields, such as biology (with an increase of 11.4%) and engineering (20.7%; although the marked difference in the sizes of the base amounts on which these percentages were calculated must be considered; this disparity is discussed in the next paragraph).

Figure IV-10a, Full Size
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Even at their 2011 high, expenditures on humanities R&D were dwarfed by those on research in the sciences and engineering (Figure IV-10b). For example, expenditures on medical research in 2011 were 69 times as great as those for research in the humanities. In that same year, spending for humanities research equaled 0.48% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering R&D (when all scientific fields—including agricultural sciences and others not depicted in Figure IV-10b—are considered).

Figure IV-10b, Full Size
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Figure IV-10c depicts the proportion of reported academic research expenditures subsidized by the federal government over the 2005–2011 time period. In 2011, the federal share of all humanities R&D dollars was approximately 20%. This share was considerably smaller than in engineering and the several science fields examined here, for which the federal government funded from 56% to 74% of academic R&D. With a federally funded share of 57%, education-related R&D was also much likelier to be subsidized by the federal government than was humanities research.

Figure IV-10c, Full Size
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The humanities and law are the only fields examined here in which the federal share of academic research expenditures was appreciably smaller in 2011 than six years earlier. From 2005 to 2009 every field experienced a decline in the share of expenditures that were federally funded, but most fields then experienced increases in 2010 and 20113 that brought their federally funded shares back to sizes that were similar to or exceeded those for 2005. In contrast, the federally funded portion of humanities research continued to shrink, so that by 2011 the percentage of all humanities R&D dollars that came from the federal government was approximately 10 percentage points lower than it had been in 2005. (For law the decline was approximately 21 points.)

Since its 2010 redesign the academic R&D survey has included fields other than science and engineering among those for which NSF collects detailed information regarding the sources of R&D funding (previously the funding information collected for such fields was limited to amounts contributed by the federal government). As is depicted in Figure IV-10d, these more complete data reveal that academic humanities R&D is likelier than research in other fields to be funded by educational institutions themselves or by not-for-profit entities.

Figure IV-10d, Full Size
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1 Through FY 2010, the NSF R&D expenditure totals for the humanities were based on the spending of only those institutions that also performed science and engineering R&D. The expenditures of institutions that did not engage in science and engineering R&D but that may have conducted substantial amounts of research in humanistic disciplines were not included. Thus the humanities R&D expenditures estimates for FY 2005–2010 are particularly conservative. Beginning in FY 2011, NSF began including in its humanities R&D totals the expenditures of institutions that had spent at least $150,000 on R&D, irrespective of the fields in which such research was conducted.

2 Expenditure data were adjusted for inflation using the Commonfund Institute’s Higher Education Price Index ( For unadjusted expenditure amounts, please consult the tables associated with Figures IV-10a and IV-10b.

3 These increases are largely attributable to funding made available to the NSF and the National Institutes of Health under the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, the federal “stimulus” legislation.

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