grew by 417 percent; academic research expenditures, by 587 percent; federally funded academic R&D, by 618 percent; and federally funded basic research, by 702 percent. At the same time, the G.I. Bill led to the vast expansion of the university enterprise in a way that reinforced the growth of research. Consequently, as Clark Kerr asserts, “At the end of World War II, perhaps six American universities could be called research universities, in the sense that research was the dominant faculty activity…. By the early 1960s, there were about 20 research universities and they received half of all federal research and development funds going to higher education. In the year 2000, there were at least 100, and many more were aspiring to this status.”3


This federal-university partnership has led to the creation of a large, diverse ecosystem of public and private research universities in which each institution plays critical local, regional, and national roles. An expansive view of the ecosystem would identify perhaps as many as 200 or more institutions that either award research doctorates or have more than $35 million in annual R&D expenditures. One observer has argued that about half of these, or 125 institutions, generate most of the new knowledge from research. This more limited set of institutions include about 60 institutions that are large, comprehensive research universities and rank among the top 100 universities globally. There are another 60 or so that educate undergraduate and graduate students and conduct research, but have a more limited set of fields in which they seek to excel in either doctoral education or research.4 The ecosystem also includes our national laboratories that provide a unique capacity for large-scale, sustained research projects that would be inappropriate for universities, such as the deep space missions of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Yet it is important to note that most of these large laboratory projects involved both university faculty and graduate students as key players.

For our purposes, research universities are those that share certain values and characteristics and participate in an “ecosystem” of research universities in which institutions interact—through cooperation and competition (see Box 3-1). Many of these values and characteristics distinguish


3 Clark Kerr, The Gold and the Blue: A Personal Memoir of the University of California, 1949-1967, Volume Two: Political Turmoil, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, p. 92. Cited in Irwin Feller, Presentation to AAAS Science and Technology Policy Forum, April 2011.

4 Jonathan Cole, The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why it Must be Protected, New York: Public Affairs, 2009.

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