Humanities Indicators
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Funding & Research  >  Support for Humanities Research
 
Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities
(Updated February 2019)

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 fiscal year (FY) 2017, inflation-adjusted expenditures for academic humanities RD (excluding research in the discipline of communication) reached $498.7 million, the highest level observed over the 2007–2017 time period (2007 is the first year for which reliable data on total expenditures are available; Indicator IV-10a).[1] Expenditures in 2017 were up 9.8% from the previous year, one of the most substantial single-year increases on record. Colleges and universities spent 76.5% more on humanities RD in 2017 than 10 years prior.[2]
  • Expenditures for academic humanities RD were dwarfed by those for research in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and medicine; Indicator IV-10b). At the extreme, expenditures for health sciences research in 2017 were 48 times greater than funding for research in the humanities. Further, 2017 spending for humanities research equaled 0.7% of the amount dedicated to science and engineering RD (when all scientific fields—including agricultural sciences and others not depicted in the graph—are considered).
  • The percentage growth in college and university spending for humanities research from 2007 to 2017 (76.5%) was substantially greater than that in any of the broad science fields examined here (e.g., the biological sciences, which experienced an increase of 27%) or engineering (35%). Humanities RD increased by 44.8% over the period beginning in 2011 (the first year in which humanities expenditures were more fully captured by the survey on which this indicator is based; please see “About the Data” for details). Comparisons between the humanities and STEM fields should be made with caution, however, given the former’s much smaller 2007 and 2011 baseline values.
  • The percentage growth in spending for academic humanities RD over the 2007–2017 period was similar to that for other non-STEM fields (77.5% for all such fields combined).
  • Federal support constituted approximately 12% of all academic humanities RD dollars in 2017, less than half the share of federal funding in each of the other fields examined here, which ranged from 31% of funding for other non-STEM fields to 66% for the mathematical, physical, and statistical sciences (Indicator IV-10c).
  • From 2007 to 2017, every field examined here experienced a contraction in the share of its RD budget that was federally funded, but the phenomenon was more pronounced in the humanities than in STEM fields. Federally funded RD constituted 25% of all humanities RD in 2007. The share decreased in most of the subsequent years, reducing the federally funded share of humanities RD by more than half over a decade.
  • In comparison to other fields, academic humanities RD in 2017 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 humanities RD came from the institutions themselves, in every STEM field examined here, no more than 35% of RD was funded this way.
IV-10a: Expenditures for Academic Research and Development in the Humanities (Excluding Communication), Fiscal Years 2007–2017 (Adjusted for Inflation)*

* For fiscal year (FY) 2010, the National Science Foundation began estimating for nonresponse on the non–science and engineering items included in the survey by which the data underlying this indicator are collected. Additionally, the eligibility criteria for the survey changed significantly from FY 2010 to FY 2011. Some of the growth in humanities research and development funding indicated by the graph is attributable to these changes. See “About the Data” for details, and for an explanation of why the discipline of communication had to be excluded for the purposes of this analysis.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2017 (Data Tables), ”https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/herd/2017/, accessed 12/20/2018. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (HI; http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/). The expenditure amounts were adjusted for inflation by the HI using the Gross Domestic Product Implicit Price Deflators produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (downloaded fromhttp://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 2007–2017 (Adjusted for Inflation)*

* For fiscal year (FY) 2010, the National Science Foundation began estimating for nonresponse on the non–science and engineering items included in the survey by which the data underlying this indicator are collected. Additionally, the eligibility criteria for the survey changed significantly from FY 2010 to FY 2011. Some of the growth in humanities research and development—and research in other non–science and engineering fields—is attributable to these changes. See “About the Data” for details, and 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 communication 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 2017 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/herd/2017/, accessed 12/20/2018. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (HI; http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/). The expenditure amounts were adjusted for inflation by the HI 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 2007–2017

* 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 communication 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 2017 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/herd/2017/, accessed 12/20/2018. 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 2017

* 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.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “Higher Education Research and Development: Fiscal Year 2017 (Data Tables),” https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/herd/2017/, accessed 12/20/2018. 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 discipline (e.g., broadcasting) from those that the Humanities Indicators treats as part of the humanities field (e.g., rhetoric and media studies). To avoid inflated estimates of humanities RD expenditures, the communication discipline has been excluded from the humanities field for the purposes of this analysis.
[2] For fiscal year 2010, the National Science Foundation began estimating for nonresponse on the non–science and engineering items included in the survey by which the data underlying this indicator are collected. Additionally, the eligibility criteria for the survey changed significantly from FY 2010 to FY 2011. The number of universities identified by the National Science Foundation as eligible to participate in the survey increased from 742 in 2010 to 912 in 2011 (for more information about this significant shift, see the November 2012 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Info Brief, NSF 13-305). Some of the apparent growth in humanities RD expenditures is attributable to these changes.