Billion-dollar business: These are higher ed’s top 30 R&D performers

Universities spent $89.9 billion on research and development in math, science, engineering and other major field during FY 2021, an increase of $3.4 billion.

Innovation is alive and well on campus as R&D on campus is seeing increased investment by college and university leaders. Academic institutions spent $89.9 billion on research and development in math, science, engineering and other major fields during FY 2021, an increase of $3.4 billion from 2020, according to the latest data from the National Science Foundation.

Higher ed R&D got a jolt from the largest increase in federal R&D spending since 2011, when Great Recession relief funding came to the rescue. Campus leaders also reported increases in state and local contributions though nonprofit spending dropped, according to the latest Higher Education Research and Development Survey.

The top 30 R&D universities—more than half of which were public institutions—accounted for 42% of total R&D spending, a number that has remained consistent over the last several years. Twenty-four of those universities invested more than $1 billion and all but three reported R&D expenditures for their medical schools.

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Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center moved into the top 30 (see the full list below) after making changes to their accounting systems while the University of California, Berkeley fell off the list. More effective accounting also helped Ohio State University make a big jump—from No. 24 to No. 12.​

Institutions that dropped down the list include the University of Minnesota, which slipped two positions even though the flagship spent $31 million more on R&D in 2021. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology moved down six positions to No. 29 after a decrease in R&D spending.

The top 30 R&D performers:

  1. Johns Hopkins University: $3.2 billion
  2. University of California, San Francisco: $1.7 billion
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: $1.6 billion
  4. University of Pennsylvania: $1.6 billion
  5. University of Washington, Seattle: $1.5 billion
  6. University of California, Los Angeles: $1.45 billion
  7. University of California, San Diego: $1.42 billion
  8. University of Wisconsin-Madison: $1.4 billion
  9. Stanford University: $1.3 billion
  10. Harvard University: $1.25 billion
  11. Duke University: $1.2 billion
  12. Ohio State University: $1.2 billion
  13. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: $1.2 billion
  14. Cornell University: $1.2 billion
  15. Yale University: $1.2 billion
  16. Texas A&M University, College Station and Health Science Center: $1.1 billion
  17. University of Maryland: $1.1 billion
  18. University of Pittsburgh: $1.1 billion
  19. University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center: $1.1 billion
  20. Georgia Institute of Technology: $1.1 billion
  21. Columbia University in the City of New York: $1.1 billion
  22. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities: $1.1 billion
  23. New York University: $1.1 billion
  24. Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center: $1.billion
  25. Washington University in St. Louis: $989 million
  26. Pennsylvania State University, University Park and Hershey Medical Center: $971 million
  27. University of Florida: $960 million
  28. University of Southern California: $956 million
  29. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $949 million
  30. Northwestern University: $913 million

Check the chart below for R&D spending in specific academic fields:

R&D (Higher Education Research and Development Survey/National Science Foundation)
(Higher Education Research and Development Survey/National Science Foundation)
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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