Penn state research expenditures climb to near-historic highs

Photo: Patrick Mansell

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's research expenditures totaled $838 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year, up from $801 million in 2014-15, according to Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey.

That total, which represents the second highest in Penn State history, included increases in support from a number of federal agencies, including NASA, the National Institutes of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services. Expenditures from all federal sources totaled $530,359,000.

State support for research and outreach increased by 19.4 percent and private foundation giving increased by more than 17 percent, Sharkey added.

Sharkey credited Penn State researchers for bringing in this near historic level of research expenditures in the face of flat federal funding.

"Penn State has a great, diverse portfolio, which means we receive significant research and development dollars from all the federal agencies. However, with the exception of some modest bumps last year, research funding across all agencies has been flat," said Sharkey. "I really have to credit our investigators. It's a testament to their tenacity and their abilities that we have been able to continually grow our research enterprise."

Among the largest federal sponsors, the Department of Defense increased funding by 3.41 percent and and the Department of Health and Human Services, which included funding from the National Institutes of Health, raised its funding of Penn State projects by 11.31 percent. Research expenditures from the Department of Agriculture increased 6.06 percent, while NASA funding went up by 8 percent.

Sharkey added that from 2010 to 2014, Penn State received substantial funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- ARRA. In fiscal year 2012-13, for example, the University received more than $30.1 million in ARRA funding. If those funds were deducted from previous years' totals, the 2015-16 expenditures would be the largest in Penn State history, he said.

Finding and keeping quality faculty members is key to keeping research funding flowing into the University, even during challenging economic times, according to Sharkey.

"It's really a testament to our ability to attract the very best faculty," said Sharkey. "As the funding shrinks relative to the number of people vying for those funds, you can well imagine that if you don't have quality proposals, you're just not going to get funded."

Sharkey said that research funding also boosts the educational experience for Penn State students.

"Our faculty's ability to win awards plays an important role in both graduate and undergraduate education," said Sharkey. "It's what makes a Research I institution such a great place to learn. Our students are learning from the people who are creating new knowledge and actually learning how to seek new knowledge, rather than just reading from textbooks."