Bruce Weinberg: University Research Return on Investment

Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics, is the lead author of a new study published in the journal Science, finding that university research is a key component to the U.S. economy, returning the investment through enormous public value and impact on employment, business and manufacturing nationwide.

“The main purpose of science funding isn’t as a jobs program or a stimulus program, but this study provides the first detailed information about the short-term economic impacts of federal research,” said Weinberg.

Weinberg and his colleagues tracked investments at nine large, midwestern universities. In total, the schools received $7 billion in research and development funding in 2012, about half of which came from the federal government. The economists found that $1 billion of that investment was spent on equipment and services from U.S. vendors. Of those expenditures, 16 percent stayed in the university’s home county; another 16 percent remained within the state.

Weinberg’s results also shed light on a diverse workforce. Most of the workers supported by federal research funding are not university faculty members. In fact, fewer than one in five workers supported by federal funding are faculty researchers. Using a new data set, the researchers also found that each university that receives funding spends those dollars throughout the United States--about 70 percent spent outside their home states--supporting companies both large and small.

 “Science is productive work. It employs people who conduct the research and people who produce the equipment and materials that science uses,” Weinberg said.

The researchers conclude that federal funding has a wider impact than is often assumed.

“The process of scientific research supports organizations and jobs in many of the high skill sectors of our economy,” the researchers wrote in Science.

The study was conducted by researchers from the American Institute of Research, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, University of Michigan and the University of Chicago. The data came from the STAR METRICS project, which is a partnership between federal science agencies and research institutions to document the outcomes of science investments to the public.