Higher education institutions are an essential component of the U.S. R&D system, performing almost half of U.S. basic research and training the next generation of scientists and engineers across fields. The federal government, primarily through six agencies, provides more than half of academic R&D funding. Academic institutions themselves are the second-largest contributor to academic R&D. Most academic R&D is performed by the same small percentage of U.S. higher education institutions that award the majority of S&E doctoral degrees. Among S&E fields, life sciences and engineering continue to dominate academic R&D.

The United States ranked highest in overall higher education expenditure on R&D, but ranked 23rd out of 44 countries in higher education R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP.

Physical infrastructure underlies the ability of academic institutions to perform R&D. Research equipment expenditures at academic institutions, when compared in constant dollars, are at their highest levels in six years. However, the federal share of total funding for research equipment has remained below 50% since 2014.

Investments made by the federal government, academic institutions, and other funders in the education and training of students and postdocs relate closely to their investments in academic R&D. Master’s students are largely self-supporting, whereas doctoral students are primarily funded by academic institutions and the federal government. The federal government funds around half of S&E postdocs, mainly through research grants. Institutions themselves fund around a quarter of postdocs. S&E postdoctoral appointments are concentrated in the biological and biomedical sciences and health sciences.