Colleges With the Highest Research and Development Funding

portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers

Published on September 15, 2021

Share this Article

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

This page provides information about the colleges with the highest research and development (R&D) funding in the United States. Due largely to this funding, the schools on this list offer numerous opportunities for students to expand their knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Students can engage in independent research in science, medicine, the humanities, and social sciences. They can also earn awards, fellowships, publication, and other opportunities that can help advance their future careers.

Below you will find a ranking of the top colleges with the highest research and development funding. The ranking uses data from the National Science Foundation’s 2017 ranking of total R&D expenditures.

Colleges With the Highest Research and Development Funding

Highest Research and Development Funding

  1. John Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Johns Hopkins University spends more than $2.5 billion per year on R&D. In fact, the school has topped the list of the National Science Foundation's ranking of colleges with the highest research and development funding for 10 consecutive years.

    In 1955, Johns Hopkins researchers developed the first effective treatment for sickle cell anemia. In 2019, a team of researchers discovered HIF-1, which helps cells manage low oxygen levels. The university has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners, including former president Woodrow Wilson and current Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Adam Riess.

    Bachelor's students can take part in a variety of research projects through the school's Office of Undergraduate Research. Additionally, the Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program allows undergraduates to seek advanced research opportunities typically not available to bachelor's students.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $2,562,307,000
    Science: $1,476,620,000
    Engineering: $1,080,021,000
    Other: $5,666,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $2,178,605,000
    State and local government: $5,326,000
    Institution funds: $138,010 ,000
    Businesses: $84,005,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $148,975,000
    Other donors: $7,386

  2. University of Michigan
    Location

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Spending just over $1.5 billion per year, the University of Michigan holds high status among the colleges with the highest research and development funding. The university focuses on interdisciplinary research that tackles diverse matters, including automated transport systems, biomedicine, poverty, and sports science. U-M strives to make its research applicable to solving real-world challenges.

    The university partners with a variety of businesses to conduct mutually beneficial research in areas such as manufacturing, climate change, and logistics. Thanks to strong partnerships with key entities worldwide, U-M allows students and faculty to explore global research opportunities, experiences, and cultures.

    The university also offers internships with organizations and agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology and U.S. Department of Energy.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,530,139,000
    Science: $1,148,441,000
    Engineering: $286,094,000
    Other: $95,604,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $829,695,000
    State and local government: $2,698,000
    Institution funds: $537,176,000
    Businesses: $82,898,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $64,646,000
    Other donors: $13,026,000

  3. University of California - San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    The University of California, San Francisco spends nearly $1.5 billion on R&D annually. All of this money goes toward research in the sciences, and the federal government provides more than 40% of the institution’s total R&D funding.

    Students can contribute to research at UCSF's Global Health Group, which leads the way in eliminating malaria in 35 countries. The university's healthcare research has led to medical breakthroughs in many areas, including the use of in-utero stem cell transplants. The university operates the Benioff Children's Hospitals and the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

    UCSF maintains close partnerships with biotechnology and technology leaders like GE, Genentech, Pfizer, and Samsung to overcome pressing challenges in the healthcare field.

    Five Nobel Prize winners have graduated from UCSF, all receiving the award for their work in medicine and physiology.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,409,398,000
    Science: $1,409,398,000
    Engineering: $0
    Other: $0

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $606,768,000
    State and local government: $32,952,000
    Institution funds: $333,955,000
    Businesses: $96,903,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $221,430,000
    Other donors: $117,390,000

  4. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    With total R&D expenditures at $1.34 billion per year, the University of Pennsylvania conducts research that results in actionable knowledge. Current research efforts focus on mitigating climate change, localizing epilepsy hotspots, and examining the impact of COVID-19 in places with significant income inequality.

    Research is a key component of the PennCOMPACT 2022, which aims to position the university as a driver of innovation that positively affects local, national, and global communities.

    Penn students can take part in internships, fellowships, and research opportunities with university partners through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. In all, the university houses 189 centers and institutes engaged in interdisciplinary research.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,374,293,000
    Science: $1,183,407,000
    Engineering: $64,279,000
    Other: $126,607,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $669,911,000
    State and local government: $16,697,000
    Institution funds: $445,519,000
    Businesses: $140,197,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $99,155,000
    Other donors: $2,814,000

  5. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    The University of Washington claims a top spot among the colleges with the highest research and development funding, with expenditures of more than $1.3 billion annually. The university focuses on social science research, examining subjects such as human rights and governance.

    UW's Population Health Initiative allows students to conduct their own research or collaborate on research projects that explore issues like environmental sustainability, economic inequality, and public health.

    The university's Office of Research provides support in project planning, creating research proposals, identifying funding opportunities, and managing funding sources. UW operates 284 research centers worldwide, including the Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research and Prevention, the National Institute of Materials Science, and the Southeast Asia Center.

    UW has produced seven Nobel Prize winners, including five in medicine and physiology and two in physics.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,348,220,000
    Science: $1,134,324,000
    Engineering: $136,318,000
    Other: $77,578,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $952,738,000
    State and local government: $27,951,000
    Institution funds: $127,960,000
    Businesses: $53,751,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $153,085,000
    Other donors: $32,735,000

  6. University of Wisconsin - Madison
    Location

    Madison, WI

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison allocates nearly $1.2 billion toward R&D each year. The school's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education offers research opportunities in areas such as data science, biotechnology, genomic science, and space science.

    The UW Office of Campus Research Cores helps students and faculty access research opportunities and partnerships while also offering compliance and policy training on research ethics, intellectual property, and animal and human subjects.

    The university recently launched the Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative, which examines economic, educational, health, social, and wealth disparities across population groups. The initiative identifies key causes and consequences of these inequalities and seeks practical solutions

    UW maintains partnerships with several companies, including ExxonMobil, American Family Insurance, and Johnson Controls.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,193,413,000
    Science: $956,312,000
    Engineering: $148,949,000
    Other: $88,152,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $570,796,000
    State and local government: $57,525,000
    Institution funds: $394,364,000
    Businesses: $25,683,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $103,996,000
    Other donors: $41,049,000

  7. University of California - San Diego
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    The University of California, San Diego makes the list of top colleges for research and development funding, with annual expenditures of more than $1.1 billion.

    The school houses researchers who have made groundbreaking advancements in nanotechnology, precision medicine, and social mobility and equity. More than 1,000 companies use or license technology developed at the university.

    UC San Diego's Office of Research Affairs gives students opportunities to engage in research, internships, experiential learning, and training in research compliance and integrity. The Office of Innovation and Commercialization supports faculty and students as they conduct research.

    Sixteen Nobel laureates have taught at UC San Diego, and the school's researchers have produced nearly 2,000 active U.S. and foreign patents. Recent research initiatives focus on studying microbiomes and reducing global carbon emissions.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,133,454,000
    Science: $1,001,236,000
    Engineering: $125,033,000
    Other: $7,185,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $641,469,000
    State and local government: $34,590,000
    Institution funds: $186,507,000
    Businesses: $80,802,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $83,986,000
    Other donors: $106,100,000

  8. Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    With expenditures at more than $1.1 billion per year, Duke University continues to climb the list of colleges with the highest research and development funding. Based in Durham, North Carolina, the university focuses about 92% of R&D funds on the sciences, including projects related to big data in healthcare, brain diseases, and global mercury toxicity.

    Duke's Office of Research Support and the statewide REACH NC web-based portal connect students and faculty to key corporate, nonprofit, and governmental partners and resources. Students regularly conduct research with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

    Recently, Duke has allocated considerable resources to COVID-19 research, addressing the pandemic from a variety of disciplines. The university has performed research and tests on animal and human subjects to find potential treatments for the virus.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,126,924,000
    Science: $1,033,367,000
    Engineering: $80,554,000
    Other: $13,003,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $623,573,000
    State and local government: $117,000
    Institution funds: $151,240,000
    Businesses: $234,802,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $98,200,000
    Other donors: $18,992,000

  9. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University remains one of the world's top institutions for innovation and research. The university spends more than $1.1 billion per year on R&D, with the majority of those funds allocated to science and medical research.

    Graduate and undergraduate students can work with faculty and visiting scholars through the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and more than 100 research centers. The university's academic library, the world's largest, features more than 28 million artifacts and works of art.

    The Radcliffe Institute brings together researchers, practitioners, and scholars in the sciences, humanities, arts, and social sciences. The institute focuses on engaging individuals who are historically underrepresented in academia, leading to greater diversity in research projects.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,123,160,000
    Science: $927,359,000
    Engineering: $105,231,000
    Other: $90,570,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $573,157,000
    State and local government: $2,336,000
    Institution funds: $334,024,000
    Businesses: $46,993,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $149,979,000
    Other donors: $16,671,000

  10. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    The prestigious Stanford University spends about $1.1 billion per year on research and development, with a primary focus on health-related projects and programs.

    The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies aims to understand challenges and policies that affect people and societies around the world. Stanford Bio-X, meanwhile, takes a cross-disciplinary approach to develop new knowledge of biological systems that enhance health outcomes.

    Stanford houses 20 academic libraries, through which students can access research tools; funding; and opportunities to collaborate with their peers, faculty, and visiting scholars. The school currently hosts 19 Nobel laureates, and 34 individuals affiliated with Stanford have received the Nobel Prize.

    Stanford also houses the Hoover Institution, which studies domestic and international affairs, along with global policies that improve the human condition.

    Total R&D Expenditure: $1,109,708,000
    Science: $929,791,000
    Engineering: $125,627,000
    Other: $54,920,000

    Funding Sources:

    Federal government: $710,698,000
    State and local government: $30,356,000
    Institution funds: $106,501,000
    Businesses: $114,788,000
    Nonprofit organizations: $142,609,000
    Other donors: $4,756,000

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Are Some Examples of Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges?

Research funding and expenditures at postsecondary institutions can take many forms. The colleges with the highest research and development funding tend to spend a large majority of those funds on the sciences. Many schools also allocate significant R&D money to engineering. Smaller levels of funding go toward other disciplines, such as business, communication, education, legal studies, and the humanities.

Each college's research and development funding depends on the school's strategic plan, funding sources, and areas with rich R&D opportunities.

Why Is Research and Development Important in College?

Research and development represents a considerable funding source for colleges and universities nationwide. In the 1950s, the federal government became more and more involved in funding R&D, turning into the top funding source by the start of the 21st century. Over the past two decades, however, industry has supplanted the federal government as the top source of colleges' R&D funding.

R&D funding allows institutions to provide more opportunities to their students, attract renowned faculty members, and contribute important scientific and social advancements to the country and the world.

How Does Research and Development Funding Benefit Students?

Colleges with substantial R&D funding offer opportunities for students to take part in valuable learning opportunities that go far beyond what they gain in the classroom alone. Undergraduate and graduate students alike can take part in research projects that can positively affect the world around them.

At the same time, these research projects enable students to build their skills while taking an interdisciplinary approach to solving real-world problems. Students can add R&D experiences to their resume, making them more competitive for career opportunities upon graduation.

What Are Some Majors that Benefit from Research and Development Expenditure?

Although students in nearly every major can benefit from their college's R&D funding, learners engaged in the sciences or engineering tend to find the greatest opportunities. Specifically, undergraduate and graduate students majoring in the health sciences, biology, chemistry, physiology, computer science, and the life sciences can access a variety of R&D opportunities at public and private institutions across the country.

Because of a combination of governmental, nonprofit, and industry funding, the healthcare industry has become the focus of an ever-growing amount of research over the past several decades. This demand provides ample R&D opportunities for medical students.

Find Additional Resources

The Student Guide to College Planning

Your Guide to College to College Applications

Your Guide to Financial Aid


Explore Related Rankings

Best Online Bachelor's in Biology Programs Best Online Bachelor's in Environmental Science Programs Best Online Master's in Biotechnology Programs
Here's a state-by-state look at which colleges are producing innovative research thanks to the investment of federal dollars. Some colleges give you more bang for your buck. Check out these 10 public colleges with the best return on investment for students in 2022. Academics, affordability, and outcomes matter in the pursuit of higher education. Read more about our picks for America's top colleges.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.