The federal government serves as one of the largest funders of research and development at American academic institutions, contributing more than $28.4 billion to 1,316 academic institutions for science and engineering activities annually. Rather than providing an exhaustive list of all academic research and development activities taking place in every state, the list below highlights one institution from each to demonstrate the vast amount of R&D being done by massive public institutions and small private schools alike. All told, some 37 public and 14 private universities and colleges made the list. After reviewing these schools, keep reading to learn more about the various federal agencies and departments that provide funding each year.

What Are The Top Research Universities?

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Federal obligations are the financial agreements and contracts that stipulate federal spending. While the federal budget is being created, certain programs are given authority to disburse funds to appropriate entities. Some of the leading governmental departments and agencies approved to fund academic institutions include:

  • Department of Commerce: In 2011, the DOC obligated $1.4 billion in R&D funds, of which 29% was allocated toward businesses, universities and colleges. Specific uses include research in oceanic and atmospheric administration.
  • Department of Defense: The DOD's 2011 obligations totaled $6.6 billion and promoted research in engineering, mathematics, computer science, physical science and life science.
  • Department of Energy: The DOE obligated $6.8 billion in 2011 for R&D, with funding providing for research related to physical science, engineering, mathematics and computer science.
  • Department of Education: The ED obligated more than $100 million during 2011.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA obligated more than $100 million during 2011 to areas of environmental sustainability, climate change and forestry.
  • Department of Health & Human Services: HHS accounted for 54% of all federal obligations during the 2011 fiscal year, with $31.8 billion going toward both basic and applied research.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: With a budget of $8.4 billion, NASA obligated funds to engineering, the physical sciences and environmental sciences.
  • National Science Foundation: The NSF used its $5.4 billion to fund research in areas of basic science, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, computer science, the physical sciences and engineering.
  • Department of Agriculture: In the 2011 fiscal year, the USDA disbursed $2.4 billion in obligations, directed towards the life and agricultural sciences.

To see a full list of federal obligations, review the National Science Foundation's report on federal R&D performance and funding.