You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 7:30 a.m.

University of Michigan ranks 1st in U.S. for research spending

By Paula Gardner

For the second straight year, the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus ranks first in research and development spending among the nation’s public universities and colleges, according to U-M officials.

U-M Ann Arbor managed to hold onto its first-place ranking among public institutions, spending $1.18 billion on research and development in 2010. When the Dearborn and Flint campuses are added, the total for the year was $1.19 billion.

Thumbnail image for large_WEB-ForrestStephen.jpg

Stephen Forrest, U-M's vice president of research.

The ranking is compiled from the latest numbers released by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

U-M atop the R&D expenditures list for public universities and behind only Johns Hopkins University on the list of all U.S. universities and colleges. The latest NSF rankings cover fiscal year 2010.

R&D spending at U-M increased 18.3 percent between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, up from 14.9 percent growth the previous fiscal year. For comparison, Johns Hopkins’ research spending grew 8 percent between 2009 and 2010, while the third-ranked university, University of Wisconsin-Madison, grew 8.6 percent.

“Our continuing success in expanding our research enterprise is a direct measure of the exceptional energy and creativity of our faculty,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president of research, in a news release.

“This is central to our mission as a public university because the excellence of our scholarship not only deeply informs the educational process for our students, but it also fuels the spirit of inquiry, innovation, and entrepreneurship that drives both the regional and national economies,” Forrest says.

From the release:

NSF revised its reporting procedures for FY 2010 to require research-spending data from “each geographically separate institution campus headed by a president or chancellor.” That means U-M campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint were listed separately for the first time, instead of the former designation “University of Michigan all campuses.”

Last September U-M announced that it spent $1.24 billion in fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30, 2011. The FY2011 numbers will be included in the next NSF annual report on R&D spending.

In fiscal year 2010, federal funds accounted for 58 percent of the research spending at the U-M’s Ann Arbor campus. As usual, funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health, provided the largest chunk of the federal funds, accounting for 41 percent of the total with $530.8 million.

Expenditures of funds from the National Science Foundation totaled $66.9 million, followed by the Department of Defense with $63.7 million and the Department of Energy at $27.1 million.

NSF’s R&D spending total and U-M’s internal research-spending reports don’t always match because the two entities use different reporting standards.

Download an Excel file showing R&D expenditures at all US universities and colleges

Download an Excel file showing higher ed R&D expenditures by federal agency


Michael Cohen

Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

A report that answers many of the questions here is available online at : It shows that more than half the funding comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). What the nation is getting for its money (these are federal tax dollars, not Michigan) is health related research. You don't get "Nobel Prizes" for finding improved treatments for cancer or diabetes, (or more efficient car batteries), but the work done may still be well worth the money spent. Because the $1+ billion is federal, industry and foundation money, the UM is bringing funds into the State. The largest part of it goes for salaries for people who do the research, which they spend in turn in the regional economy. If it weren't for the success the UM has had in externally funded research in the last few decades, the State of Michigan, which has steadily reduced its support of UM and MSU, would no longer have a first rate research university. It's pretty hard to have the kind of job creation they have in California or Massachusetts without the kind of quality research universities those states have.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

And what is the return to the citizens for all of the research. When I worked there, we had to justify what the research dollars were being spent -- what was the return to the citizens. And, the department did just that -- returned results from the research back to the community.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 2:52 a.m.

But where do they rank in research that's worthwhile?


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 1:26 a.m.

Obama's budget (only one passed through house and senate) of 2009, had double digit increases for NIH, DoE, etc. Funding stream started in 2010, and through grant procedures and other bureaucratic processes, really began in 2011. This is the top of the roller coaster folks. Hope it's enjoyed,and perhaps; some good can come out of it. In the meantime, we begin paying, and our children will do the same, for many years.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Perhaps a little dour Clark, but not hyperbole. Simply put, the ranking and $$$ is the pig in the snake and the level will not be repeated. And while we hope all projects and grants turn out like the Internet, some are more "shovel ready" than others.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 3:02 a.m.

A bit hyperbolic, eh? Of course we're paying for it - we're buying investments that pay huge dividends in the long run. Like, say, a global computer network that allows you to complain about how much money we're wasting on science. In any case, the entirety of the NIH and NSF budgets combined is on the order of $36 billion. That's only about 1% of the $3.5T federal budget, and less than 5% of the Defense Department budget. If in fact we do have a budget crisis, it's not exactly fair to blame it on science funding.

Trisha Carey

Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

wondering where I could get information on just exactly what projects the DOD is contributing towards at the UMichigan research center(s) .... links??? is the information even available??? to the viewing public ????

Trisha Carey

Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

alan, first glance ... navy/air force are more towards physics and engineering; however the army has the majority of interest in bio fields: cancer, women reprod, tinnitus, soldier resiliency, breast cancer etc/etc ;

Trisha Carey

Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

Randy, thank you for the link ... cumbersome but it will get to what I was looking for eventually; @arborcomment, didn't think of myself as a judge - but remember the old saying about "no, free lunches" and wondering what the government is expecting in return for the pledge of money.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 1:15 a.m.

Trisha, when one asks for the color of money... Others would wonder on your skill to judge.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 10 p.m.

Physics and engineering fields are the main beneficiaries.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 9:15 p.m.

The UM has a web site that let's you search by various criteria for research awards to University going back to 1988. For DoD awards you'll need to select from the various DoD departments (Army, Navy, AirForce, DARPA) in the DirectSponsorQuickList pulldown.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 6:05 p.m.

How many Nobel prizes does UM have to show for all this spending? (None) What percentage of graduate degrees are going to American students? Thus, how much benefit does the American taxpayer get for their investment in R&D at UM? It also makes the University a very dangerous place for whistle blowers. They must protect the rain makers who bring in federal grants so if you accuse one of scientific misconduct or grant fraud beware the entire weight of the University will come down on your head.


Tue, Apr 3, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

ROFL ... thanks so much Alan. I laughed so much at your fact based answer to this ludicrous question that I had tears running down my face. Together with the MacArthur genius grant recipients, the publications and awards that rain down on faculty and graduates of the UM, the international reputation of the University that results, the transfer of research into profitable businesses in which the University retains patents creating huge profits, the work the U does with every facet of Government from NIH to CDC to NASA all in the spirit of enhancing the public good or in joint public relationships are too numerous to mention, and that doesn't include the Hospital System that conducts clinical studies and research with the Government and other Universities around the World to enhance public health. The lack of understanding reflected in the question is astounding, but what is scarier is that it may reflect the Republican level of intelligence in Lansing as well!


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

7 grads have won the Nobel Prize, 3 in physics, 1 in Chemistry, and 3 in the medical sciences.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

My former department alone had 3 ' macarthur genius grant' recipients....give it a rest, pal.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

Note to "thinker": Yeah, the roughly $20M (in current dollars) a year that the NSF (and ARPA before it) spent over 20 years (of which UMich/Merit got a significant portion esp. in the NSF era) to build out and refine what has now become the modern Internet was a real waste of "our tax money". By any reasonable estimate the federal investment in networking back in the 70s and 80s of maybe $20M a year has created an industry now generating easily $500B a year in revenue (and generating even by conservative estimates $20B a year in tax revenue). Let's see, in terms of ROI on your "tax money" $20M a year in and now $20B a year in return is a pretty good rate of return. I don't know about you, but I'll take 1000:1 return on my personal investments any day. And if you think that private industry would have done the same, in fact it was the universities with federal funding who pushed an open network (the Internet) in an era when all of the private companies were pushing their own proprietary closed networks. Or would you like to still have dial-up AOL? But somehow I doubt that simple facts will help change your mind.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

I am constantly amazed and appalled at the knee-jerk hostility of some commenters to the UM...both when the subject is a purely positive one ( as this story) or a ( rare) screw-up ( as in the porn doctor case)...... In both instances the same folks rush out of the gate with either 'dog in the manger, raining on the parade" stuff...or else sanctimonious crocodile tears and 'schadenfreude".


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

@Basic Bob- Apples and oranges. It appears that the general public does not understand funding. State appropriation for higher ed is the state's subsidy of tuition for in-state students, nothing more. It has nothing to do with research. For example UM has about 25,000 undergrads, 2/3 of them are in-state. The difference between resident and non-resident tuition is approximately $20,000 for a total tuition break to in-state students of $300-350M. This is the taxpayers portion. This is the price we pay for quality education for resident students which benefits the state.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

This is excellent! So good that one Michigan institution is striving towards the future, seeking, learning, and if only the backwards nuts stuck in the dark-ages (I can't say who, as I will have this comment deleted) will stay out of things/stop trying to legislate from a fictional book.

Basic Bob

Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

Does Mary Sue Coleman know what big increases they have been getting? An increase of over a third in only two years! They are spending over a BILLION PER YEAR on research alone and she is concerned about being left behind on state funding compared to Grand Valley State. She can't retire soon enough.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

More of our tax money at waste, at city, state and federal levels.


Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

You don't know exactly what a university is, do you, Thinker?

Hot Dice

Mon, Apr 2, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Does anyone else see the irony in someone with the pseudonym "thinker" deploring research as a waste of money? What exactly is it upon which you ponder, great thinker? All I can see is a gross misunderstanding of the proportion of funding for these endeavors that is derived from "our" tax dollars -- particularly in the reductive way that you describe. Carry on, great thinker.