US. Universities Report Four Years of Declining Federal Research Funding

The NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) reports that funding for research at higher education institutions declined for a fourth straight year. The TOP 30 Research Institutions and full report can be found here.

*The One Hundred-Fourteenth United States Congress is the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It is scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C. from now until January 3, 2017, during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency. The federal budget process occurs in two stages: appropriations and authorizations.*


  • During a peak in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, federal funding accounted for 62.5 percent of total higher education research and development (R&D) expenditures. That figure dropped to 55.2 percent in FY 2015, the most recent year for which data are available. Overall, universities reported $68.8 billion in R&D expenditures for FY 2015; federal funding accounted for $37.9 billion of that.
  • Adjusted for inflation, federal funding for higher education R&D declined 1.7 percent between FY 2014 and FY 2015, and 13 percent since a peak in FY 2011. The latest figures continue the longest multi-year decline since the beginning of annual data collection in FY 1972.
  • Despite the drop in federal dollars, three agencies — the Department of Defense, NASA and the Department of Agriculture — reported increases. All other major providers reported decreases. That included the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), by far the largest source of federal funds, which provided $20 billion in FY 2015, down from $23 billion in FY 2011.

Higher education R&D is heavily concentrated in three fields, which together accounted for 64.3% of the total spent in FY 2015: medical sciences ($21.3 billion), biological sciences ($11.7 billion), and engineering ($11.1 billion).

The 2017 budget includes a proposed increase of $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $25 million more for agriculture research, and more funds for the National Science Foundation. These increases will be lost if Congress doesn’t act by December 9, 2016 (the date the temporary budget agreement expires).

American Science Alliance is a politically balanced, evidence-based, science and technology public policy organization that brings you transparency and insight into the federal science and technology funding process. Member benefits through Patreon are our way of providing exclusive, rewarding content to those who are making our work actively possible through pledges.

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