Survey Overview (FY 2019 Survey Cycle)

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The Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities is a congressionally mandated survey. It is the primary source of information on the amount and cost of space at science and engineering (S&E) research facilities located at U.S. research-performing colleges and universities. The survey is the basis of public data used by Congress, higher education associations, state governments, academia, and architectural and engineering firms.

Data collection authority.

The information is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The Office of Management and Budget control number is 3145-0101, expiring on 31 August 2022.

Major changes to the recent survey cycle.

A detailed list of disciplines by each S&E field was added for FY 2019. The list was available to respondents as a searchable PDF document through the Web survey. The list was intended to help respondents find the most appropriate S&E field in which to report research for specific disciplines.

Key Survey Information

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Initial survey year.


Reference period.

FY 2019.

Response unit.

Establishments. U.S. academic institutions reporting at least $1 million in R&D expenditures in the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey.

Sample or census.


Population size.

Total of 590 in FY 2019.

Sample size.

Not applicable.

Key variables.

Key variables of interest are listed below.

  • Amount and type of science and engineering research space

  • Current expenditures for projects to construct and to repair and renovate research facilities

  • Condition of research facilities

  • Planned construction and repair and renovation of research facilities

  • Source of funds (federal, state and local, institutional) for construction and for repair and renovation of research facilities

  • Research animal facilities

Survey Design

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Target population.

Research-performing colleges and universities in the United States with $1 million or more in R&D expenditures in S&E in the prior fiscal year.

Sampling frame.

This survey is a census. The population is identified through the HERD Survey of the previous fiscal year. In the FY 2019 survey cycle, there were 590 academic institutions, of which 573 (97%) responded.

Sample design.

All eligible units are surveyed.

Data Collection and Processing

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Data collection.

The FY 2019 survey was conducted by Westat under contract to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Surveys are distributed to institutional coordinators at each institution. These coordinators are individuals knowledgeable about the requested information who collect the responses from various offices and submit the information via a Web survey. The data collection period was October 2019 through May 2020.

Data processing.

Several procedures were used to clean and edit the data. For example, the Web survey contained numerous programmed edit checks that alerted respondents to inconsistent or missing data via edit messages. These included alerting respondents if their individual data did not sum to the total. Also, once respondents submitted their final data, a second set of edit checks was conducted. Finally, comparisons were made between an institution's FY 2019 data and the previous year's data. Respondents were contacted regarding any apparently inconsistent, missing, or unclear data.

Estimation techniques.

This survey is a census. Imputation was performed for missing items from nonresponding institutions in order to make population estimates.

Data missing as a result of unit nonresponse and item nonresponse were imputed using a regression-model approach with the following predictors: (1) institutional control (private or public), (2) highest degree granted (doctorate or nondoctorate), (3) existence of a medical school, (4) R&D expenditures for the prior fiscal year, and (5) total net assignable square feet (NASF) for the prior fiscal year. In addition to the core predictors, regression models for specific survey items included data from responses to other survey items and to their FY 2017 data, where available.

Survey Quality Measures

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Sampling error.

This survey is a census, so no sampling error exists.

Coverage error.

Coverage is high because institutions meeting the population requirements are identified from the HERD Survey. Institutions were investigated individually to ensure there was no duplication.

Nonresponse error.
The following nonresponse errors are noted.
  • Unit nonresponse—For the FY 2019 cycle, 97% (573 out of 590) of the academic institutions responded to the survey.

  • Item nonresponse—The FY 2019 survey had limited item nonresponse. Nonresponse ranged from 0% to 2% for 96% of the items. The remaining 11 items had nonresponse rates ranging from 2.6% to 3.8%. Nonresponding institutions (unit nonrespondents) were not included in the item nonresponse calculations.

Measurement error.

The most likely source of measurement error results from institutions estimating the requested data. Respondents may estimate their data for several reasons, including estimating data that are not included in the institution's database or because some figures are estimates by their nature (e.g., out-year budget figures).

Measurement error may also occur because institutions may define their database elements differently from the definitions used on the survey. For example, an institutional database may identify research space based on a primary-use criterion, whereas the survey requests that space be prorated according to all uses. The survey question on the condition of research space is a subjective question that may be rated differently across respondents.

Data Availability and Comparability

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Data availability.

Survey data are compiled for the defined fiscal year, the preceding fiscal year, and planned activities for 2 succeeding fiscal years.

Data comparability.

This survey was first conducted in 1986. Small improvements were made to the survey questions over time. Although data comparability was generally not affected, any specific impact is accounted for in the technical notes for each survey. The FY 2001 survey was very limited and comprised of only two questions that corresponded to questions in the prior survey cycles.

The questionnaire was extensively redesigned for implementation in the FY 2003 survey. A comprehensive description of the redesigned survey can be found in Redesign of Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities: 2003. To the extent possible, the FY 2003 survey was redesigned for comparability over time.

Questions were added on computing and networking capacity beginning with the FY 2003 survey cycle. Following each survey cycle, the computing and networking capacity questions in Part 2 of the survey were evaluated for current relevance and updates in technology. The computing and networking capacity questionnaire was discontinued prior to the FY 2015 survey cycle after an in-depth investigation concluded that it was no longer feasible, appropriate, or cost-effective to proceed with collection of these data.

Changes were made to the fields of S&E and to the lists of disciplines included in the fields for the FY 2007, FY 2015, and FY 2017 surveys in order to better coordinate field totals in national academic surveys. The changes for FY 2007 were extensive enough that comparisons with pre-2007 data at the S&E field level are not advised. S&E field-level data are comparable for 2007 to the present.

Data Products

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Detailed tabular data from this survey are published biennially in the series Science and Engineering Research Facilities. Information from this survey is also included in Science and Engineering Indicators.

Electronic access.

Microdata beginning with the FY 2007 survey are available in NCSES's interactive data tool. Public use files beginning with FY 2003 are available at Due to a confidentiality pledge, microdata from this survey for years 1988 through 2001 are not available.

Contact Information

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For additional information about this survey, contact the Project Officer.

Michael T. Gibbons
Survey Manager
Research and Development Statistics Program, NCSES
Tel: (703) 292-4590

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (703) 292-8780
FIRS: (800) 877-8339
TDD: (800) 281-8749