Humanities Indicators
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Funding & Research  >  Support for Humanities Research
 
Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities
(Updated February 2017)

Data on the levels and sources of funding for research and development (RD) at the nation’s colleges and universities reveal modest investment in the humanities relative to other fields, as well as the much greater dependence of humanities research on direct institutional support.

Findings and Trends

  • From 2005 to 2015, inflation-adjusted expenditures on academic humanities RD increased in every year except 2008 (Indicator IV-10a). Expenditures in 2015, approximately $430.3 million, were 86% higher than in 2005 (the first year in which reliable data of this kind were collected).[1]
  • Even at their 2015 high, expenditures on academic humanities RD were dwarfed by those on research in the sciences and engineering. For example, expenditures on medical research in 2015 were almost 50 times as large as funding for research in the humanities. In 2015, spending for humanities research equaled 0.6% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering RD (when all scientific fields—including agricultural sciences and others not depicted here—are considered; Indicator IV-10b).
  • The percentage growth in college and university spending on humanities research from 2005 to 2015 was substantially greater than that observed in many science fields, such as physical sciences (including math; an increase of 6%) and engineering (33%). Comparisons between the humanities and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) should be made with caution, however, given the former’s much smaller 2005 baseline value.
  • The percentage growth in humanities funding over the 2005–2015 period also outstripped that of other non-STEM fields (69% for all such fields combined).
  • Federal support constituted approximately 14% of all academic humanities RD dollars in 2015—less than half the share of federal funding in each of the other fields examined here, which ranged from 32% of the funding for other non–science and engineering fields to as high as 66% for the mathematical and physical sciences (Indicator IV-10c).
  • From 2005 to 2009, every field experienced a decline in the share of its academic RD expenditures funded by the federal government. STEM fields then experienced increases in 2010 and 2011 that brought their federally funded shares back to sizes similar to or exceeding those for 2005.[2] In contrast, the federally funded portion of humanities research rebounded slightly in 2009 but then continued to shrink until 2011. From 2011 to 2015, all fields saw further contraction in the share of funding coming from the federal government, but the change was more pronounced in the humanities than in other fields. In 2015, the federally funded share of humanities research was 16 percentage points smaller than it had been in 2005.
  • In comparison to other fields, academic humanities RD in 2015 was more likely to be funded either by educational institutions themselves or by not-for-profit entities (Indicator IV-10d). While 65% of the funding for humanities RD comes from the college or university, in every other field less than a third of RD funding comes from the institution.
IV-10a: Academic Research and Development Expenditures in the Humanities, Fiscal Years 2005–2015 (Adjusted for Inflation)

* The eligibility criteria for the survey by which these data are collected changed significantly from fiscal year (FY) 2010 to FY 2011. Some of the growth in humanities research and development funding indicated by the graph is attributable to this shift. See “About the Data” for details.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2015 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2015/, accessed 12/1/2016. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/). The Indicators adjusted the expenditure amounts for inflation using the Gross Domestic Product Implicit Price Deflators produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (downloaded from http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/GDPDEF/downloaddata).

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IV-10b: Academic Research and Development Expenditures in the Humanities and Other Selected Fields, Fiscal Years 2005–2015 (Adjusted for Inflation)

* The eligibility criteria for the survey by which these data are collected changed significantly from fiscal year (FY) 2010 to FY 2011. Some of the growth in non–science and engineering research and development funding indicated by the graph is attributable to this shift. See “About the Data” for details.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2015 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2015/, accessed 12/1/2016. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org). The Indicators adjusted the expenditure amounts for inflation using the Gross Domestic Product Implicit Price Deflators produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (downloaded from http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/GDPDEF/downloaddata).

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IV-10c: Federally Funded Share of Expenditures for Academic Research and Development in the Humanities and Other Selected Fields, Fiscal Years 2005–2015
Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2015 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2015/, accessed 12/1/2016. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org).
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IV-10d: Sources of Funding for Academic Research and Development in the Humanities and Other Selected Fields, Fiscal Year 2015
Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2015 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2015/, accessed 12/1/2016. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators (humanitiesindicators.org).
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Endnotes

[1] Some of this apparent growth is attributable to an increase in the number of universities—from 742 in 2010 to 912 in 2011—identified by the National Science Foundation as eligible to participate in their Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges. Taking that change in coverage into account, the increase in humanities RD from 2011 to 2015 was 29%. For more information about this significant change to the survey, see the November 2012 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Info Brief, NSF 13-305.
[2] These increases are largely attributable to funding made available to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal “stimulus” legislation.