What are the factors that threaten to undercut this synergy?
1. Undergraduate education in the United States is increasingly being
undertaken by students in non-research universities and colleges.
Between 1970 and 2008 the proportion of undergraduates studying at
research universities declined from 29 percent to 18 percent, while the
proportion studying at two-year colleges increased from 27 percent to
36 percent. At for-profit institutions the increase was from essentially
zero at the beginning of the period to 12 percent today. Because
freshman/sophomore education subsidizes junior/senior instruction,
and undergraduate instruction indirectly subsidizes graduate instruction,
the shift of undergraduates from research universities to community
colleges, regional universities, and for-profit universities ensures that the
implicit subsidy for research universities will grow at a slower rate than
the US undergraduate population.
2. State subsidy of research universities is dropping. In 1987, roughly
$11,600 was appropriated per FTE student in 2009 constant dollars.
By 2009, appropriations were down to $9,700, a decline of approximately
$1,900 per student. State appropriations are intended primarily to support
undergraduate education but they also permit employment of research-
capable faculty, build research libraries and specialized computing
3. Externally funded research increasingly does not pay for itself.
Institutional expenditure for research has increased from 11.6 percent of
total university research expenditures in 1972 to 20.1 percent in 2008. Much
of this increased university subsidy of research is the direct result of the
federal government’s reduction in the proportion of facilities and
administrative research costs its grants reimburse.
4. At both public and private universities, endowment levels fell sharply
after fall 2008 and remain below fall 2008 levels today. Many prudent
endowment managers have reduced their annual payout because of the
increased uncertainty of future returns.
In the meantime, other financially unimpaired vendors, i.e., federal labs,
contract research firms, and for-profit firms, are willing to conduct federally
The Future of the US Research University
C O N T I N U E D
FEBRUARY 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC