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Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education
civil engineering, and other engineering, biological and medical sciences, computer science, and oceanography. Of these, the number of fields whose support was up 20 percent or more from 1993 levels increased from one in 1997 to six in 1999. Funding of some fields increased somewhat from 1997 to 1999 but not enough to raise them back up to their 1993 levels. Those include electrical engineering and physics. Fields that, like overall research expenditures, turned a corner were environmental biology, agricultural sciences, mathematics, social sciences, and psychology. Their funding, which was less in 1997 than in 1993, exceeded the 1993 level by 1999.
NIH growth accounts for a large part but not all of the increased support of the biological and medical sciences. DOD and VA also increased their funding of those fields. The decline in the support of many of the physical science and engineering fields is partly attributable to the fact that the budgets of their principal sponsoring agencies (e.g., DOD, DOE, and NASA) did not fare as well as the NIH budget and partly to the fact that the agencies with growing budgets, especially NIH and NSF, did not increase their support of those fields and in some cases reduced it. At the same time, some fields—e.g., computer science, oceanography, and aeronautical engineering—experienced substantial growth, even though their largest 1993 funders were agencies with shrinking budgets—e.g., DOD and NASA. They did so by maintaining their level of funding of agencies with declining budgets and by picking up additional support from other agencies.
The patterns in federal funding of basic research and research performed at universities are somewhat more favorable than the trend in total research support, suggesting that by the late 1990s agencies were tending to protect basic and university research relative to applied research and other performers. At the aggregate level, funding of basic research was 16.6 percent larger in 1999 than in 1993, compared with 6.8 percent for applied research. University research was 19.9 percent more in 1999 than in 1993, compared with 7.2 percent for all other performers (e.g., industry, federal laboratories, other nonprofit research institutions).
Basic and university-performed research are also characterized by sharp divergence among fields, however. In basic research, 14 of the 22 fields had more funding in 1999 than in 1993, compared with 11 in 1997, and the number with 20 percent or more funding increased from five in 1997 to 8 in 1999. But basic research funding was less in eight fields, three by 20 percent or more (chemical and mechanical engineering and geological sciences). In university research, 15 of 22 fields had more funding in 1999 than in 1993, nine by 20 percent or more, compared with 10 and 4 fields, respectively, in 1997. The amount of university funding remained less in seven fields, two of them by 20 percent or more (mechanical engineering and geological sciences).
In most fields, trends in basic research funding were similar to those for total research. Where total funding was up, basic research funding was also up, and vice versa. There were some interesting discrepancies between overall and university research trends, however. For example, although total funding of chemical engineering research was down substantially in 1999 compared with 1993 (by 25.9 percent), chemical engineering research at universities was up slightly (by 2.2 percent). And while mathematics research was up by 6.4 percent overall, mathematics research at universities was down by 13.5 percent.
Production of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Is Down
The number of Ph.D.’s awarded in science and engineering by U.S. colleges and universities declined 5 percent from 1998 to 1999. The number of Ph.D.’s awarded in the sciences peaked in 1998 at 21,379 and declined 3.6 percent to 20,616 in 1999. The number of Ph.D.’s in engineering peaked earlier in 1996 at 6,305 and has since declined by 15.4 percent to 5,337 in 1999. Because in most fields it takes 7 or more years to complete Ph.D. requirements, these declines must be attributable largely to factors other than changes in federal research support. Nevertheless, in the years ahead the ongoing decline in enrollment in most fields will reinforce the drop in graduate school output of Ph.D.’s.
Sharp Differences in Graduate Enrollment Trends Among Fields
From 1993 to 1999, trends in federal funding for university research, full-time graduate enrollment, and numbers of doctorate recipients reveal two divergent patterns among science and engineering fields. Fields in which federal funding for university research was down from 1993 to 1997 have nearly all had declines in both graduate enrollments and doctorate recipients from 1993 to 1999. Fields with increasing federal funding for university research, however, exhibit a range of divergent trends in graduate enrollment and doctorate production. These trends depend on a variety of factors, including the state of both the industrial and academic research labor markets and the supply of undergraduates.
As funding for most of the physical, environmental, mathematical, and social sciences declined in the 1990s, so did the number of graduate students in these fields, the number of students federally supported, and the number of federally funded research assistants (RAs). In physics, geology, atmospheric sciences, and mathematics, the decline in the number of federally funded RAs was approximately 20 percent between 1993 and 1999. Nevertheless, two fields with increasing research support—astronomy and ocean sciences—also experienced reductions in federally funded graduate students, although less drastic.