Special Report

Universities Spending the Most on Research

Researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine recently developed a new molecule that targets certain cells that contribute to the progression of heart failure. This drug molecule may one day help millions of Americans suffering from chronic heart inflammation linked to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. The university has patented the molecule and it is planning soon to conduct clinical trials in humans.

The central role of a university is to provide students with the vocational and critical thinking skills to help them pursue their occupational goals. But as the research into heart failure at OSU shows, another major role of many universities is to bring together scholars, facilities, and students into an environment that allows them to engage in research and development for clinical and commercial purposes. (These are the easiest colleges to get into with the smartest applicants.)

Research universities incubate startups and develop patents, often with the financial support of federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others. Patents are often licensed to private companies.

Ohio State University is one of 25 U.S. universities that spend the most on research and development. According to the National Science Foundation, the university spent $968 million on R&D in 2020, more than half of that budget on life sciences development.

To determine the 25 universities that spend the most on research and development, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2020 data on R&D spending, in total and by field, from the National Science Foundation. Data on student enrollment for fall 2020, acceptance rate for the 2020-2021 school year, and the most popular major during the 2018-2019 academic year came from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Most of these 25 schools devoted more than a billion dollars toward R&D in 2020, led by the $3.1 billion spent by Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, the country’s first and oldest research university. Four of these big R&D spenders are located in California, including Stanford and UCLA. New York and Pennsylvania have three universities on this list each. Together, these 25 universities spent $32.1 billion on research and development in 2020. 

The costliest university R&D programs are the ones that require laboratories, especially in medical and science, technology, and engineering-related fields. (These are the highest and lowest paying college majors in America.)

Here are the schools spending the most on research

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