Survey Overview (FY 2018 Survey cycle)

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The Survey of Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions (Federal S&E Support Survey) is the only source of comprehensive data on federal science and engineering (S&E) funding to individual academic and nonprofit institutions. The survey is sponsored by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Data collection authority.

The information from this congressionally mandated survey is collected under the authority of the NSF Act of 1950, as amended, and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.

Major changes to recent survey cycle.

The Department of Defense (DOD) version of the survey was revised to collect data on research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) for both academic and nonprofit institutions.

Key Survey Information

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Initial survey year.

FY 1963.

Reference period.

FY 2018.

Response unit.

Federal agencies.

Sample or census.


Population size.

The survey is a census of all federal agencies that obligate money to academic or nonprofit institutions or consortia for S&E research and development or the construction or maintenance of R&D facilities. In the survey cycle for data collection on FY 2018, the population is 20 federal agencies.

Sample size.

Not applicable.

Key variables.
Key variables of interest are listed below.

Data are collected at the funding-agency level and provided in aggregated form for individual academic institutions—1,010 in FY 2018. The survey provides data on federal funding by the following key variables:

  • Category of support
    • R&D (RDT&E for DOD)

    • Fellowships, traineeships, and training grants

    • R&D plant

    • Facilities and equipment for instruction in S&E

    • General support for S&E

    • Other activities related to S&E

  • Type of institution

  • Federal agency providing support

  • State

  • Academic institution characteristics

    • Highest degree granted

    • Historically black colleges and universities

    • High-Hispanic-enrollment institutions

    • Tribal institutions

    • High-American Indian-enrollment institutions

    • Minority-serving institutions

    • Type of control (public versus private)

    Data are also collected at the funding agency level and provided in aggregated form for nonprofit institutions—922 for FY 2018. The survey provides data on federal funding to nonprofit institutions by the following key variables:

  • Category of support

    • R&D (RDT&E for DOD)

    • R&D plant

    Note that the variables in this survey use definitions comparable for R&D and R&D plant to those used by the Office of Management and Budget and the Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development (Federal Funds Survey).

Survey Design

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Target population.

The target population was all federal agencies that obligated money in FY 2018 to academic or nonprofit institutions or consortia for S&E R&D or the construction or maintenance of R&D facilities. Academic institutions are institutions of higher education in the United States that engage primarily in providing resident or accredited instruction for not less than a 2-year program above the secondary school level that is acceptable for full credit toward a bachelor's degree or that provide not less than a 1-year program of training above the secondary school level that prepares students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Included are colleges of liberal arts; schools of arts and sciences; professional schools, as in engineering and medicine, including affiliated hospitals and associated research institutes; and agricultural experiment stations. Nonprofit institutions are private organizations, other than educational institutions, whose net earnings in no part benefit a private stockholder or individual and other private organizations created for the exclusive purpose of turning over their entire net earnings to such nonprofit organizations. Consortia are organizations formed by the membership of institutions from one or more types of performers to promote and support efforts to enhance knowledge in one or more disciplines. NCSES has identified several consortia and classified them as either academic or nonprofit types based on the predominance of their membership at the time of identification. If a consortium's members are not primarily academic or nonprofit, but the consortium is legally organized as a nonprofit, NCSES classifies that consortium as a nonprofit institution.

Sampling frame.

This survey is a census. Its population is derived from the federal agencies identified in the Federal Funds Survey as providing R&D or R&D plant obligations to universities or nonprofit organizations. For FY 2018, there were 20 agencies (12 federal departments and 8 independent agencies). Because multiple subdivisions of a federal department were in some cases requested to complete the survey, there were 57 agency-level respondents (2 federal departments, 47 department subdivisions, and 8 independent agencies) and 33 program-office level respondents, for a total of 90 respondents.

Sample design.

Not applicable.

Data Collection and Processing

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Data collection.

The FY 2018 survey was conducted by Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc. (Synectics) under contract to NCSES. Data collection began with an e-mail to each agency to verify the name, address, fax and phone numbers, and e-mail address of each agency-level survey respondent. A Web-based data collection system is used to collect the Federal S&E Support Survey data, but some agencies submit data offline.

Information was collected for the federal fiscal year 2018 (i.e., 1 October 2017 through 30 September 2018). Data collection was conducted in two phases for FY 2018: for non-DOD agencies, it began 21 February 2019, and the requested due date for data submissions was 3 May 2019; for DOD agencies, it began 3 June 2019, and the requested due date for data submissions was 26 July 2019. Data collection is usually extended until all surveyed agencies have provided complete and final data.

Data processing.

A Web-based data collection system is used to collect and manage data for the Federal S&E Support Survey. This Web-based system was designed to help improve survey reporting and reduce data collection and processing costs by offering respondents direct online reporting and editing. However, some agencies submit their data in alternative formats.

The data are checked through both manual reviews and automated data checks that include a comparison of current year obligations by category of support and the corresponding prior year obligations. Problems are referred back to the agency that submitted the data for correction; respondents' data are not changed by the survey contractor or NCSES.

Estimation techniques.

There is no unit nonresponse or known item nonresponse; therefore, weighting or imputation techniques are not used. NCSES assumes a blank field is zero for estimation purposes.

Survey Quality Measures

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Sampling error.

Not applicable.

Coverage error.

Occasionally, small amounts (less than $100,000) of R&D may be obligated to a university or college by an agency other than the ones listed above, and these amounts are not captured by this survey.

Nonresponse error.

Agencies are encouraged to estimate information when actual data are unavailable. The survey instrument allows respondents to enter data or skip data fields. There are several possible sources of nonresponse error by respondents, including inadvertently skipping data fields, skipping data fields under the false assumption that blank fields are equivalent to zero, and skipping data fields when data are unavailable.

Measurement error.

The major source of nonsampling error in this survey is measurement error. Agencies are not always able to provide the precise information requested. For example, federal agencies are not always able to identify which branch of a university receives funding from them. Thus, complete disaggregation by actual university branch may not be feasible for some universities.

Other problems include agency difficulties in matching program descriptions with the proper funding category (e.g., R&D, facilities and equipment for instruction in S&E) in the federal S&E support database. At least one agency has said that the "general support for S&E" and "other S&E" categories are a catchall for programs that do not fit anyplace else.

Data Availability and Comparability

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Data availability.

Annual data are available for FYs 1963–2018.

Data comparability.

Eight federal agencies supplied data for FYs 1963–67 (data collection began in 1965). The initial survey elicited information about academic institutions only. Additional agencies have been included in the years since then. The survey has been conducted annually since 1968. Information on nonprofit organizations was added in 1968.

In some instances, prior year data have been modified based on discrepancies noted during the consistency reviews of the data across years. To obtain accurate historical data, data users should use only the most recent publication, which incorporates corrections agencies have made in prior year data.

Data Products

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NCSES publishes data from this survey annually in the detailed tabular data series Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions. Data for major data elements are available for FY 1963 onward.

Electronic access.

Data from this survey are also available in the NCSES's Academic Institution Profiles.

Access to the data for major data elements is available for FY 1963 onward in NCSES's new interactive data tool. Users can create custom tables about federal S&E funding to academic and nonprofit institutions by federal agency.

Contact Information

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For additional information about this survey, or the methodology report, contact the project officer.

Christopher Pece
Project Officer
Research and Development Statistics Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 292-7788