Changes in the major institutions that engage in S&E R&D and help prepare the workforce of the future usually occur gradually, typically over a longer time scale than changes in economic markets. This section describes consequential changes and continuities in the major institutions involved in U.S. S&E activity over the last two decades, focusing on institutional features that play important roles in R&D and in S&E education. Attention is devoted primarily to higher education, industry, and government, which are the largest funders and performers of R&D and the biggest employers of workers with S&E training. However, other institutions that play important niche roles (e.g., nonprofit funders and performers of research; federally funded research and development centers [FFRDCs]) are also mentioned. Other institutions that lay important foundations for a knowledge economy (e.g., K–12 education) are discussed in the body of the report.
Ironically, a focus on institutions highlights one of the most striking changes in the U.S. S&E landscape in recent years—the growth of cross-institution, cross-sector, and cross-national collaboration. Institutions and disciplines that formerly inhabited almost entirely separate worlds more frequently collaborate on projects and cross boundaries to enter previously unfamiliar territory.
Publication data show the clearest evidence of this trend. Although the distribution of S&E publication activity between academic and nonacademic institutions remained relatively stable between 1997 and 2012 (figure
From 1990 to 2012, the share of purely U.S. S&E articles with authors from multiple institutions grew from 34% to 62%. Collaborative publication was more common in the U.S. academic sector than in other U.S. institutional sectors. The share of purely U.S. academic articles with authors from multiple academic institutions rose from 16% in 1990 to 31% in 2012 (figure
Between 1997 and 2012, internationally coauthored articles grew from 16% to 25% of the world’s total. In the United States, the trend toward more international collaboration was even stronger. The percentage of U.S. articles with coauthors from institutions in other countries almost doubled (from 19% to 35%) between 1997 and 2012. Worldwide in 2012, 59% of all S&E articles with only domestic authors were produced with coauthors at different institutions (43% in 1997). Collaborative research articles receive more citations than single-author articles, suggesting higher quality or greater impact.
Publication data reveal increased collaboration between U.S. authors at academic institutions and other organizations that perform R&D, indicating a growing connection between the basic research performed in the academic sector and the more applied work characteristic of other sectors. In various institutional sectors—including industry, federal government, FFRDCs, and private nonprofit—the proportion of articles with academic sector coauthors increased by about 12–14 percentage points between 1997 and 2012.
The flow of funding among institutions also illustrates the trend toward collaborative research. Over the past 15 years, pass-through funding, in which funding for R&D at one university is shared with one or more collaborating institutions, has grown more rapidly than overall academic R&D expenditures. Between FY 2000 and FY 2009, the pass-through funds that universities provided to other universities grew by 171% (from $700 million to $1.9 billion), while overall academic R&D expenditures grew by only 82% (from $30.1 billion to $54.9 billion).
Moreover, a growing proportion of patents are citing S&E literature on their cover pages. This indicates an increasing connection between higher education and the institutions that translate research findings into commercial innovations. Of patents awarded to both U.S. and foreign assignees, 12% cited S&E articles in 2003, and that share grew to 15% in 2012.
Just as academic research is increasingly interconnected both nationally and globally, business R&D has also been developing more international and interorganizational linkages. The rise in these kinds of linkages has coincided with the decline of large research organizations, such as Bell Labs, that performed fundamental research inside major corporations and with a concomitant drop in research publications attributed to industry (from 15,614 to 11,779 between 1990 and 2012).
Institutions of higher education are responsible for S&E education and training and perform the majority of U.S. basic research. In these respects, the functions of the higher education system have remained largely unchanged in recent decades.
The organization of higher education, however, has undergone significant modifications, including changes in the opportunity structure for research doctorate holders. Over the past 20 years, there has been a declining ratio of tenured to nontenured positions, even as the professoriate has aged substantially. Growth in the numbers of individuals in other positions—including academic postdoctorates and nontenured full- and part-time positions—has been substantial.
Between 1995 and 2010, the proportion of S&E faculty in academia reporting research as their primary job activity edged up slightly (from 33% to 36%), and the share of those identifying teaching as their primary activity fell from 54% to 47%. Further evidence of the growing importance of research in the U.S. academic sector can be seen in the growth of research expenditures in general and in revenues from federal appropriations, grants, and contracts.
In public very high research universities, inflation-adjusted research expenditures grew by about 150%, and revenues from federal awards grew by about 190% in the same period. In private very high research universities, the corresponding growth rates were approximately 160% and 140% (figure
Historically, the training of the next generation of highly skilled researchers in S&E has been concentrated in doctorate-granting institutions with very high research activity. It still is, but to a lesser extent than it once was. In 2011, these institutions awarded 74% of doctoral degrees, 42% of master’s degrees, and 38% of bachelor’s degrees in S&E fields. That is down from 94% (doctoral), 55% (master’s), and 45% (bachelor’s) in 1998. The change suggests a growing role in advanced S&E education for higher education institutions that are less centrally research- and S&E-oriented.
In addition, higher education institutions that are primarily oriented toward teaching, such as community colleges, play an important role in preparing students for advanced training in S&E. One-fifth of all U.S. citizens or permanent residents who received a doctoral degree from 2007 to 2011 had earned some college credit from a community or 2-year college. Moreover, the share of bachelor’s degree recipients with at least some credit from community colleges increased from 43% in 1999 to 49% in 2010 (figure
Revenue and expenditure patterns for higher education institutions have also undergone significant changes over the last two decades. Between 1987 and 2010, state and local appropriations per full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolled student at public universities fell by more than 25% on average after adjusting for inflation. At the same time, inflation-adjusted net student tuition per FTE student more than doubled at these universities, in effect replacing public sources of funding with private ones. Tuition and fees for public colleges and universities grew faster than median household income during this period (figure
To acquire revenue to support research and other operating activities, higher education institutions in the United States increasingly tapped sources such as higher tuition rates that generate revenues from students from more-affluent families, foreign students who pay full tuition, and outside grant support for research activities. Increasing grant receipts, however, do not necessarily cover the full costs of grant administration, especially in S&E areas, such as biomedical research, for which universities must bear the significant costs of monitoring compliance with research regulations.
Finally, among various long-term changes, one feature of the higher education research landscape shows remarkable continuity. The bulk of R&D expenditures in the United States are concentrated among a small number of research-intensive institutions, and the extent of this concentration has remained very consistent over the last two decades, even as the identity of the institutions in the top groups has changed. In FY 2012, the top 10 institutions in terms of R&D performance accounted for 18.0% (18.8% in FY 1989), the top 20 for 30.6% (32.5%), and the top 100 for 78.8% (82.0%).
With the growth of a knowledge economy over recent decades, a larger number of U.S. students are getting S&E degrees and eventually finding jobs in S&E occupations. Between 2000 and 2011, there were sizeable increases in the number of earned S&E degrees at the bachelor’s (+39.1%), master’s (+56.6%), and doctoral levels (+35.5%) (figure
As the number of S&E bachelor’s degrees has grown steadily over the past 15 years (with a new peak of over half a million in 2011 [figure
For over 20 years, about one-third of U.S. bachelor’s degrees have been awarded in S&E fields. Likewise, the distribution of degrees across S&E fields remained remarkably similar between 2000 and 2011. Percentages of bachelor’s degrees in S&E were almost unchanged in engineering (about 14% in both years), biological and agricultural sciences (21%), and psychology (18%). Physical sciences (3.7% in 2000; 3.5% in 2011) and mathematics (2.9% in 2000; 3.3% in 2011) also did not exhibit major changes. Social sciences experienced a slight increase (28.5% in 2000; 31.1% in 2011) and computer sciences a small decrease (9.4% in 2000; 7.9% in 2011).
Although the demographics of persons receiving S&E training and entering the S&E labor force remain quite different from those of the general U.S. population, there has been some general movement toward more diversity of participation in S&E occupations. Proportions of workers in minority groups have increased, while the percentage of whites has dropped from 84% in 1993 to 70% in 2010.
While women represent half of the college-educated workforce, they are underrepresented in the S&E workforce. In 2010, women accounted for only 37% of employed individuals with a highest degree in an S&E field and 28% of employed individuals in S&E occupations. Yet, these percentages represent increases since 1993, when the comparable figures were 31% and 23%, respectively (figures
S&E participation has also risen over time among racial and ethnic minorities, particularly among Asians but also, to a lesser degree, among Hispanics and blacks (figure
The share of workers holding a bachelor’s degree or above in S&E occupations who are foreign born has increased over the last decade. Among college-educated S&E workers, the foreign-born share increased from 22.4% in 2000 to 26.2% in 2011 (figure
Among foreign-born individuals with S&E doctorates living in the United States in 2010, slightly more than one-third were born in China (23%) and India (13%) (figure
Of the more than $420 billion of U.S. R&D funding, over 90% comes from either the business sector (63% in 2011) or the federal government (30% in 2011). These proportions have been relatively stable over the last decade (69% and 25%, respectively, in 2000). Consistent with the growing commercial relevance of systematic knowledge, business sector funding as a proportion of overall R&D funding increased rapidly for over 30 years beginning in 1965. In the last two decades, however, federal funding has also increased substantially, and the ratio between U.S. federal and business sector R&D funding has been relatively stable, with U.S. federal funding being somewhat less than half the size of business sector spending on R&D since the mid-1990s. Thus, although federal funding as a proportion of national R&D had declined during the decades following World War II, the federal government has continued to fund a large and generally stable share of national R&D over the last decade (figure
During the last two decades, the division in national R&D among basic research, applied research, and development has also been fairly stable (18%, 19%, and 63%, respectively, in 2011). Different institutions tend to perform different kinds of R&D projects. In 2011, the business sector was the largest performer of R&D activities in the United States (70%) because it performed most of U.S. applied research (57%) and development (88%). It executes relatively little basic research (17% in 2011). The academic sector, which performed only 15% of national R&D in 2011, in contrast, accounted for most U.S. basic research (55%).
In many respects, federal funding patterns show substantial continuity. Thus, the Department of Defense has continually accounted for more than half of annual federal R&D spending. Likewise, federal funding consistently has been the main source of funding for academic R&D. Over the last decade, the federally funded proportion of R&D at public academic institutions increased from 52% (1999) to 58% (2012). At private institutions, it remained roughly constant, at or around 72% (figure
Federal R&D spending over the last two decades has changed substantially in one respect: health-related R&D has grown sharply, going from 12% of total federal R&D budget authority in FY 1980 to 22% in FY 2011. A corresponding major shift has occurred in the distribution of academic R&D expenditures among S&E fields, which has moved away from physical sciences and toward the life sciences. Data on research space at academic institutions and publications likewise reflect a more dominant role for life sciences in academic R&D.
During the international financial crisis that started in late 2008, the three institutional sectors mainly responsible for R&D funding and performance—business, universities and colleges, and the federal government—faced budgetary challenges. Many businesses were unable to secure credit or were unwilling to make investments in view of uncertainty about the length and the intensity of the economic downturn. Universities and colleges faced steep budget cuts, prompted by declining state appropriations or shrinking endowments. Along with many governments across the world, the federal government took on unexpected and unprecedented financial commitments to guarantee the integrity of the international and national financial systems.
Consequently, R&D investments in all three sectors were curtailed and broke away from their long-term growth trend. In the United States, for the first time in 50 years, R&D expenditures remained stagnant in 2009 (figure
While R&D expenditures have recovered to some extent, the deviation from the overall long-term trend remains discernible in the data. Adjusted for inflation (in 2005 dollars), R&D expenditures in the United States for 2011 ($374.4 billion) were about the same as in 2008 ($374.5 billion).