Humanities Indicators
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Funding & Research  >  Support for Humanities Research
 
Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities
(Updated April 2018)

Data on the level 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

  • In 2016, inflation-adjusted expenditures for academic humanities RD (excluding research in the discipline of communication) decreased for the first time since 2007, the first year for which reliable data are available (Indicator IV-10a).[1] Expenditures in 2016, approximately $435 million, were down slightly (less than 0.1%) from the year before, but were 57% higher than in 2007.[2]
  • Expenditures for academic humanities RD were dwarfed by those for research in the sciences and engineering (Indicator IV-10b). At the extreme, expenditures for health sciences research in 2016 were more than 50 times as large as funding for research in the humanities. In 2016, 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).
  • The percentage growth in college and university spending for humanities research from 2007 to 2016 (57%) was substantially greater than that observed in many science fields, such as biological sciences (including biomedical sciences; an increase of 24%) and engineering (31%). Comparisons between the humanities and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) should be made with caution, however, given the former’s much smaller 2007 baseline value.
  • The percentage growth in spending for academic humanities RD over the 2007–2016 period was less than that for other non-STEM fields (75% for all such fields combined).
  • Federal support constituted approximately 13% of all academic humanities RD dollars in 2016—less than half the share of federal funding in each of the other fields examined here, which ranged from 29% of the funding for other non-STEM fields to 67% for the mathematical, statistical, and physical sciences (Indicator IV-10c).
  • From 2007 to 2016, every field experienced a contraction in the share of its RD that was federally funded, but that contraction was more pronounced in the humanities. Federally funded RD constituted 25% of all humanities RD in 2007. The share decreased in virtually every year since, shrinking the federal share of humanities RD in 2016 to just over half of its original size.
  • In comparison to other fields, academic humanities RD in 2016 was much more likely to be funded either by educational institutions themselves or by not-for-profit entities (Indicator IV-10d). While over two-thirds of a college’s or university’s funding for humanities RD came from the institution itself, in every other field examined here one-third or less of RD was funded this way.
IV-10a: Expenditures for Academic Research and Development in the Humanities (Excluding Communication), Fiscal Years 2007–2016 (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 an explanation of why the discipline of communication had to be excluded.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2016 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2016/, accessed 3/20/2018. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/). The expenditure amounts for inflation were adjusted 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: Expenditures for Academic Research and Development in the Humanities and Other Selected Fields, Fiscal Years 2007–2016 (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 and other non-STEM research and development funding indicated by the graph is attributable to this shift. See “About the Data” for an explanation of why the discipline of communication had to be excluded from the humanities field for the purposes of this analysis.
** Business management and business administration; communication and communications technologies; education; law; social work; and visual and performing arts.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2016 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2016/, accessed 3/20/2018. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/). The expenditure amounts for inflation were adjusted 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 2007–2016

* See “About the Data” for an explanation of why the discipline of communication had to be excluded from the humanities field for the purposes of this analysis.
** Business management and business administration; communication and communications technologies; education; law; social work; and visual and performing arts.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2016 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2016/, accessed 3/20/2018. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (http://www.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 2016

* See “About the Data” for an explanation of why the discipline of communication had to be excluded from the humanities for the purposes of this analysis.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2016 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/heRD/2016/, accessed 12/1/2016. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (http://www.humanitiesindicators.org).

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Endnotes

[1] The system the National Science Foundation (the collector of the data from which the RD estimates presented here are derived) uses to classify academic disciplines does not permit the separation of the more professionally oriented aspects of the communication field (e.g., broadcasting) from those that the Indicators treats as part of the humanities field (e.g., rhetoric and media studies). To avoid inflated estimates of humanities RD expenditures, the Humanities Indicators has excluded communication from the analysis.
[2] 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. 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.