The Top Research Universities By State

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Published on December 3, 2020

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When choosing a school, researchers typically look for institutions that invest in research and development (R&D) and receive funding from various sources, including the federal government. The more research funding a school receives, the more likely it is that researchers can get the financial support needed to run their projects.

To help aspiring researchers find the most promising research schools in their area, the following page highlights the top research universities by state according to R&D funding.

To identify the top research universities by state, the following list relies on information provided by the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 2017 ranking list. Data about federal R&D investments comes from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer.

Top Research Universities By State

State-by-State Top Research Universities

  1. University of Alabama
    Location

    Birmingham, AL

    A top research university, the University of Alabama at Birmingham spends over $558 million annually on related expenditures. To ensure students, faculty, and affiliates adhere to standards of scientific integrity, the university provides training and additional resources covering how to conduct responsible research. Community members stay updated on the school's innovations through a weekly newsletter called Research Matters.

    Undergraduates can participate in service-learning projects and pursue their own projects, presenting their work at an annual expo. UAB also provides opportunities through pilot programs, such as the Center for AIDS Research and the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care.

  2. University of Alaska - Fairbanks
    Location

    Fairbanks, AK

    Opening in 1922, the University of Alaska Fairbanks leads the state in research contributions. According to the NSF, the school committed approximately $153 million to R&D in 2017.

    One of the few schools with land, sea, and space grants, UAF features prominent research facilities, including the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, the International Arctic Research Center, and the Institute of Marine Science. The school has made contributions to climate change, high-latitude biological systems, and volcanological research.

  3. The University of Arizona
    Location

    Tucson, AZ

    Founded in 1885, the University of Arizona runs one of the state's leading research programs, with R&D expenditures over $622 million in 2017.

    UArizona has established more than 100 research centers and institutes throughout the state, including centers for brain research, insect science, and sustainable technology. The institution also receives some of the highest NASA funding, ranking in the top five among the country's research schools.

  4. University of Arkansas
    Location

    Fayetteville, AR

    The flagship institute of the University of Arkansas System, the University of Arkansas was founded in Fayetteville in 1871. According to the NSF, the school's R&D expenditures surpassed $157 million in 2017.

    UA's research covers data science, human health, and sustainability. Some of the school's other signature research areas include food systems, materials science, metabolic diseases, and neuroscience.

  5. University of California - San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    Founded in 1864 as a private medical school, the University of California, San Francisco is one of 10 campuses in the University of California System and the only campus dedicated entirely to graduate and professional education. In 2017, UCSF spent approximately $1.41 billion on R&D.

    Recognized as one of the leading research institutions in the health sciences, UCSF received the most federal funding for biomedical research among all public schools. The institution's research has led to numerous medical breakthroughs, five Nobel Prize winners, more than 1,800 active inventions, and nearly 200 entrepreneurial startups.

  6. University of Colorado
    Location

    Boulder, CO

    Founded in 1876, the University of Colorado Boulder has become the state leader in research and innovation. In 2017, the university invested over $499 million in R&D.

    CU Boulder hosts more than 900 researchers conducting studies through 12 research institutes. Some of the school's research specialities include aerospace, energy, biosciences, fundamental sciences, and environmental sciences. Of all public research institutions, CU Boulder performs the most NASA research.

  7. Yale University
    Location

    New Haven, CT

    Founded in 1701, Yale University continues to drive innovation through research. According to NSF data, the school dedicated over $951 million to R&D in 2017. The university's many research projects and centers explore the humanities, sciences, arts, engineering, medicine, and social sciences.

    Yale researchers enjoy access to museums, galleries, and a leading research library system. The university hosts more than 850 faculty members involved in research and has made groundbreaking medical discoveries. Yale's research has made important contributions to robotic fabrics, quantum computing, and pharmaceuticals.

  8. University of Delaware
    Location

    Newark, DE

    Since it was founded as a private academy in 1743, the University of Delaware has grown into the state leader for research and development. According to NSF data, R&D expenditures at UD reached more than $183 million in 2017.

    UD features more than 75 research facilities, including a solar energy research institute, the oldest of its kind in the world. Research projects at UD examine diverse topics, including clean fuel and energy, mobility, and historical artifact conservation. Engineering makes up the majority of UD's research.

  9. The George Washington University
    Location

    Washington, D.C., DC

    Founded in 1821, the George Washington University has become a leader in Washington, D.C., for its research and innovation, as well as its flexible graduate programs. According to NSF data, the school featured approximately $246 million in R&D expenditures in 2017, the most out of any university in the District of Columbia.

    Research at GW touches on many disciplines, but some of the most innovative work involves technology, global security, and health. The university offers researchers access to more than 70 research centers and institutes, including the Science and Engineering Hall and the Global Women's Institute.

  10. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Florida's flagship school, the University of Florida, dates back to 1853 and is one of most research-driven institutions in the country. According to the NSF, UF invested more than $801 million in R&D in 2017.

    One of the few schools with land, sea, and space grants, UF is a leader in biotechnology and health-related research. The university produces significant research through more than 40 institutes, including the Institute on Aging, the UF Genetics Institute, and the UF Shands Cancer Center.

Which State Has the Most Top Research Universities?

California houses the most top research universities out of all 50 states. According to the NSF, the state boasts three schools that placed in the top 10 R&D expenditures in 2017: the University of California, San Francisco; the University of California, San Diego; and Stanford University.

What Are Some Examples of Research Expenditures at Universities?

Research expenditures can cover costs related to the researchers, research facilities, and projects. For example, schools can invest the money into a new research library, which includes securing the necessary technology and titles. They can also use research funds to build a laboratory or research institute and purchase all of the necessary equipment and supplies.

R&D expenditures also cover employee and researcher salaries, benefits, and grants. To maintain funding year over year, schools need to produce results, which requires talented researchers, promising ideas, and quality resources. R&D expenditures help attract and keep the best people while also providing them with the financial support they need.

Why Is Research Important at a University?

High-quality research creates an ideal environment for universities. Schools that support prominent research projects attract better students, researchers, and faculty. Extensive research results in more research and internship opportunities for students, collaborative environments for faculty, and partnerships and notoriety for the school.

Research funding often goes into creating new facilities, which institutions reuse and repurpose long after the initial project finishes. Funding also leads to innovation, jobs, and publications, which can lead to more R&D funding in return.

How Does Research and Development Funding Benefit Students?

For students, choosing a school with significant R&D funding can lead to a better education. Funding helps universities provide their learners with modern facilities. Additionally, great research often trickles down into the programs, leading to new information, courses, and majors.

R&D funding also means a lot of activity and opportunity for degree-seekers. Students can often find employment and internships within research projects. For graduate students, research experience can improve their chances at admission, along with their chances to receive funding.

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

Most programs and degrees can benefit from R&D expenditures by using such funding to secure experienced faculty, classroom space, and equipment. The programs that require the most funding are those that need significant scientific and/or technological resources and/or facilities. Technology-related degree programs, for example, need investment in necessary equipment, such as computers and laboratory supplies.

Medical degrees also feature substantial R&D expenditures, as many schools require clinical simulation centers and laboratories for medical research. In some cases, medical schools can double as actual treatment centers, so facilities must meet current healthcare quality standards.

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