Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its most recent statistical tables for research and development (R&D) expenditures in science and engineering (S&E) at universities and colleges across the country.
This data allows us to peer into funding trends at local universities up to fiscal year 2007.
Funding to universities for research can come from a variety of sources: the federal government, state and local governments, private companies and industry, foundations, and the universities themselves.
Here then is a chart illustrating research funding in science and engineering at Youngstown St. University from 2000 to 2007.
The dollar values are in thousands, and displayed are trends for all combined sources of S&E R&D funds (usually the top line), the portion from the federal government (middle), and the portion from industry (lowest line):
The graph shows R&D funding at YSU in recent years had peaked back in 2004 at $1.8 million, dropping by 2007 to almost $600,000. Federal funding too experienced this growth and fall, while funding from companies consistently hovers around or less than $100,000.
Now looking at our friends at Cleveland St. University, the overall trend in S&E R&D funding on that campus is definitely upward. Total funding peaked as well in 2004, at $16.9 million, which is about 10 times that of YSU.
Next up is the University of Akron, which has experienced dramatic increases under the tenure of President Luis Proenza. The last six years of total S&E R&D funding on the chart has U of A in the $27 to $29 million range consistently.
We can also compare trends for the universities side-by-side:
The data for YSU also allows us to delve into the subjects being funded. For example, out of the total $611,000 attained by the university in 2007, according to the NSF:
- $9,000 went to the environmental sciences
- $156,000 went to the life sciences
- $7,000 went to the math/computer sciences
- $375,000 went to the physical sciences (chemistry, physics)
- $1,000 (approx) went to psychology, and
- $59,000 went to engineering
In 2007, the state of Ohio was ranked 7th in the nation with $1.81 billion in science and engineering research funding to universities. More impressively, Ohio ranked fourth in the percent increase (42.5 percent) in this amount for the five-year period from FY03 to FY07.
Looking only at total funding in 2007 to public universities in the state:
- $720 million at Ohio State
- $376 million at Univ. of Cincinnati
- $52.4 million at Univ. of Toledo
- $49.7 million at Wright State
- $38.7 million at Ohio Univ.
- $27.1 million at Univ. of Akron
- $23.7 million at Miami Univ.
- $19.0 million at Kent State
- $16.8 million at Air Force Inst. of Tech.
- $15.9 million at Cleveland State
- $9.1 million at Bowling Green
- $5.0 million at NEOUCOM
- $2.3 million at Central State
- and $611,000 at YSU
To be sure, tracking research expenditures is only one simple component of measuring the overall complex impact of a university. In addition to economic development, a university improves the workforce, quality of life, community service opportunities, and the arts, among others.
Reasons for lower relative research rankings over the decades at YSU to other Ohio public universities can be a result of several factors:
- only two programs are currently offered at the PhD level (none in STEM)
- historically smaller science and engineering masters degree programs
- fewer connections to existing industries from earlier decades
- smaller metro and university size
- lack of metro-wide economic development strategy and implementation
- poor governmental leadership at federal level prior to this decade
However, that's the past - and time to move to the future.
According to this recent video taken by the Business-Journal of YSU President David Sweet, the mission of university has been updated, and has undergone a reclassification by the state as an urban research university:
In closing, what will the future hold?
Some important steps have been taken in the past few years, which may impact YSU's future opportunities to grow their R&D expenditures:
- the establishment of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) College as one of the university's academic units, along with its new leadership;
- the continued growth of local tech companies in the downtown;
- additional engagement with institutions in Pittsburgh, Akron, and Cleveland;
- enhanced partnerships with regional companies;
- leadership at the federal level that understands real economic development;
- the potential for state and regional leaders, and local citizens, to get on this train and not sit on the sidelines.