Changes in Federal Support for Academic S&E and R&D Activities Since the 1970s

Shifts in Emphasis of Federal S&E Support

Between FY 1971 and FY 1983, the distribution of funds between R&D support and "other S&E support" changed rather dramatically. (See appendix table 6.) In FY 1971, two-thirds of Federal academic S&E funds supported R&D activities and the remaining one-third supported all other S&E activities. After FY 1971, the share devoted to R&D rose steadily, reaching a peak of 89 percent in FY 1983. After FY 1983, the R&D share fluctuated between 86 percent and 88 percent while the "other S&E" share fluctuated between 12 percent and 14 percent. Since the combined group of research, doctorate-granting, and freestanding medical institutions receive most of the S&E funds, the distribution between R&D and other S&E support over the 30-year period basically mirrored the overall distribution for all institutions. For the remaining classifications—the 2-year, master's-granting, and baccalaureate-granting institutions—the emphasis also shifted toward R&D, but the focus was less concentrated. (See figure 7.) The R&D share of their support never reached as high as 80 percent, and in FY 2000, only about two-thirds of the funding for these institutions was for R&D and one-third was for "other S&E support."

Figure 7. Composition of Federal S&E support to academic institutions, by type of support: FY 1971-2000
Figure 7 Source Data: Excel File

The change in Federal funding emphasis between FY 1971 and FY 1983 resulted from a moderate increase in R&D support combined with a substantial decline in "other S&E support." The latter fell, in constant dollars, from about $2.5 billion in FY 1971 to $900 million in FY 1983 and then increased, stabilizing around $2 billion in the 1990s; it has still not reached the levels of the early 1970s in constant dollars.[8] (See appendix table 7.)

The decline in "other S&E support" was particularly dramatic in the category of fellowship, traineeship, and training grants, which fell from $1.4 billion in FY 1971 to about $275 million in FY 1983—almost a fivefold decrease in about a decade's time. After FY 1983, funding for this category exhibited a fairly steady increase, reaching a peak of just over $800 million in FY 1999. Funding for the "other S&E support" category with the second highest level of Federal support in FY 1971—other S&E activities—fell from $710 million to $484 million in FY 1983, while combined funding for the two remaining "other S&E support" categories—facilities and equipment for S&E instruction and general support for S&E— decreased two-thirds, from $429 to $141 million, between FY 1971 and FY 1983. In contrast, Federal academic R&D support increased from about $5.2 billion to $7.4 billion during this same period. (See appendix table 8.)

Although "other S&E support" was never a large part of overall Federal S&E support for academic institutions during the period analyzed, the decline in both the share and level of such support had a disproportionate effect on institutions that were not classified as research, doctorate-granting, or medical. Many of these institutions lost any Federal support they may have had for their S&E activities during this period. The number of such institutions receiving support began to increase again in the latter part of the 1980s and the early 1990s, but it never reached the level of the early 1970s. It appears that only by developing an ability to compete for and obtain Federal R&D funds did many of the institutions that stopped receiving Federal S&E support during the 1970s and early 1980s regain such support. (See appendix table 2.) A number of Federal initiatives like EPSCoR, HBCU, and Tribal College programs, and S&E education programs for colleges and universities were created with the objective of improving capacity in these institutions.


[8] Unless otherwise indicated, all references to dollars refer to 1996 constant dollars.

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