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Public Research Universities

Why is this important?

Public and private research universities contribute to innovation and economic competitiveness. Public research universities play a special role in supplying S&T expertise to state and local governments and businesses and providing a broad cross section of students with access to high-quality STEM education in a research-oriented environment. Declining funding, increasing student enrollments, and rising costs pose formidable challenges to their mission.

Key observations:

S&E degrees produced by research and other universities, by level of degree: 2011

(PERCENT)
NOTE: Other universities include master's- and bachelor's-awarding universities and colleges, special focus institutions, associates colleges, and tribal colleges.

SEI 2014: Institutions providing S&E Education, Chapter 2.

Enrollment and degrees

Research universities are the leading producers of S&E degrees in the United States. Public research universities grant the majority of the S&E degrees awarded by these universities.

Enrollment in research universities: 1990–2011

SEI 2014: The U.S. Higher Education System, Chapter 2.

Enrollment and degrees

Public research universities also account for the majority of all research-university enrollment.

S&E R&D expenditures of research universities: 1990–2012


R&D

Along with their private counterparts, public research universities play an essential role in the production of academic research. Public universities account for the majority of all research-university R&D expenditures.

Tuition and state and local appropriations in U.S. public research universities: 1987–2010

(2010 CONSTANT $)
NOTES: Data are per full-time equivalent student and for the most research-intensive universities. Net tuition data reflect tuition after subtracting institutional grant aid.

SEI 2014: Trends in Higher Education Expenditures and Revenues, Chapter 2.

Affordability

Public institutions have traditionally offered less-affluent students an avenue to a high quality, affordable education. In the last two decades, however, the cost of attending public research universities has risen steeply, coinciding with a decline in state and local appropriations, a significant source of institution revenue. Adjusted for inflation, tuition and fees per full-time student rose sharply between 1987 and 2010—143%—in the most research-intensive public universities; state and local appropriations per full-time student fell 28% in that period.

Tuition and fees in U.S. research universities: 1987 and 2010

(2010 CONSTANT $)
NOTES: Data are per full-time equivalent student and for the most research-intensive universities. Net tuition data reflect tuition after subtracting institutional grant aid.

SEI 2014: Trends in Higher Education Expenditures and Revenues, Chapter 2.

Affordability

The sharp rise in tuition coincided with nearly stagnant household incomes. Between 1987 and 2010, median household income in the United States grew only 3% after adjusting for inflation.

Despite their steep increase in tuition and fees, public research universities remain less expensive than private research universities.

Spending on higher education as a share of GDP for selected countries or country group: 2009

(PERCENT)
GDP = gross domestic product; OECD = Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
NOTES: Data for Canada are for 2008. Data for Switzerland include public expenditures only.

SEI 2014: Higher Education Expenditures, Chapter 2.

Investment in higher education

The sum of U.S. economic resources devoted to higher education remains competitive in the global context. Along with Canada and South Korea, the United States devotes a larger proportion of its gross domestic product to higher education than do other developed countries.

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