Colleges With the Highest Research and Development Funding

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Published on November 18, 2020

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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

John Hopkins University View School Profile 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

University of Michigan View School Profile 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

University of California - San Francisco View School Profile 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

University of Pennsylvania View School Profile 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

University of Washington View School Profile 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

University of Wisconsin - Madison View School Profile 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

University of California - San Diego View School Profile 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

Duke University View School Profile 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

Harvard University View School Profile 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

Stanford University View School Profile 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

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill View School Profile Chapel Hill, NC

The University of North Carolina's flagship campus spends about $1.1 billion on R&D annually. UNC focuses its research on brain disease; cancer; data science; the environment; opportunity, well-being, and society; and precision health and society. Within each area, students and faculty can access opportunities to engage in groundbreaking research with real-world applications.

The university maintains research partnerships with organizations like the Baity Air Engineering Laboratory, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, and the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease. UNC's Office of Vice Chancellor for Research provides support to students during each step in the research process, from writing proposals to closing and assessing projects.

Total R&D Expenditure: $1,102,063,000
Science: $1,031,603,000
Engineering: $29,932,000
Other: $40,528,000

Funding Sources:

Federal government: $676,282,000
State and local government: $17,810,000
Institution funds: $277,954,000
Businesses: $39,273,000
Nonprofit organizations: $70,194,000
Other donors: $20,550,000

University of California - Los Angeles View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

With expenditures at more than $1 billion per year, the University of California, Los Angeles earns a spot among the colleges with the highest research and development funding nationwide. Nearly 90% of these funds go toward R&D in the sciences.

UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability leads cross-disciplinary research that incorporates humanities, legal studies, natural studies, public policy, and social science to gain greater understanding of issues like sustainability and climate change.

Additionally, the school's Center for Population Research conducts research on family dynamics, individual welfare, social and economic inequality, social dimensions of health, and life cycles of human beings in society.

UCLA has produced seven Nobel laureates throughout its 100-year history.

Total R&D Expenditure: $1,076,917,000
Science: $957,627,000
Engineering: $80,153,000
Other: $39,137,000

Funding Sources:

Federal government: $487,846,000
State and local government: $47,097,000
Institution funds: $246,402,000
Businesses: $62,427,000
Nonprofit organizations: $162,215,000
Other donors: $70,930,000

Cornell University View School Profile Ithaca, NY

Cornell University, an Ivy League institution, spends nearly $1 billion per year on research and development. Students and faculty conduct research in 24 cutting-edge labs designed to study biotechnology, botany, hydraulics, energy systems, and human health.

A recent groundbreaking project featured the construction of Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope-prime (CCAT-prime), a 20-foot diameter telescope located in Chile. The telescope features a high site and extremely precise mirror designed to observe space at short wavelengths.

Although Cornell offers research-focused programs, graduate students can also access funding for their own independent research projects or join existing efforts at the university. The university emphasizes cross-disciplinary research, allowing learners studying various subjects to collaborate on projects.

Cornell boasts 50 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni and former faculty members.

Total R&D Expenditure: $984,478,000
Science: $878,004,000
Engineering: $85,162,000
Other: $21,312,000

Funding Sources:

Federal government: $438,182,000
State and local government: $88,961,000
Institution funds: $260,889,000
Businesses: $48,338,000
Nonprofit organizations: $116,514,000
Other donors: $31,594,000

Massachusetts Institute of Technology View School Profile Cambridge, MA

Massachusetts Institute of Technology aims to push the boundaries of knowledge, demonstrated by nearly $1 billion in yearly R&D expenditures. MIT, located near Boston, maintains an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program that enables more than 85% of undergraduate students to take part in frontline research initiatives.

The university conducts research across 30 academic departments, with dozens of programs, labs, and centers that encourage cross-disciplinary research. For instance, the Lincoln Library focuses on developing next-generation technology in air traffic control, homeland security, and space systems.

The MIT Industrial Liaison Program provides industry leaders with access to the university's resources while offering students opportunities to participate in R&D that contributes to the next generation of products, systems, and technologies.

Additionally, MIT's Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the world's independent leader in oceanic research.

Total R&D Expenditure: $952,017,000
Science: $446,511,000
Engineering: $432,453,000
Other: $73,053,000

Funding Sources:

Federal government: $487,434,000
State and local government: $1,797,000
Institution funds: $101,155,000
Businesses: $171,318,000
Nonprofit organizations: $97,284,000
Other donors: $93,029,000

Yale University View School Profile New Haven, CT

Yale University has continued to move up on the list of U.S. colleges with the highest research and development funding, spending nearly $1 billion per year. Most expenditures go toward scientific research, including areas such as biomedicine, health sciences, chemistry, and psychology.

The university operates several of the world's most prestigious research centers, including the Schell Center for International Human Rights, the Cancer Biology Institute, and the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies. More than 50 Nobel Prize winners have been associated with the school.

Yale's Office of Sponsored Programs allows undergraduate and graduate students to find research opportunities and funding while also connecting them with faculty-led research projects.

The university recently became a key partner of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Quantum Networks. The initiative aims to provide a foundation for a future "quantum internet."

Total R&D Expenditure: $951,084,000
Science: $899,664,000
Engineering: $30,905,000
Other: $20,515,000

Funding Sources:

Federal government: $541,608,000
State and local government: $1,477,000
Institution funds: $253,060,000
Businesses: $70,263,000
Nonprofit organizations: $78,668,000
Other donors: $6,008,000

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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.

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