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Leading Research Universities Report, January 9, 2023

Capitol BuildingPresident Biden Signs $1.7 Trillion FY23 Spending Bill

AAU is pleased that President Biden has signed the $1.7 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (H.R. 2617) after it passed both the House and the Senate last month. The omnibus package includes increases in funding for scientific research across the federal government.

The bill contains $772.5 billion in nondefense spending ($42.5 billion more than FY22) and $858 billion in defense spending ($76 billion more than last year). The bill also includes $1.8 billion in new funding to implement the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

The package provides increases in funding for nearly all of AAU’s priority agencies and programs, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The legislation also includes boosts in funding for several federal student aid programs, including a $500 increase to the annual maximum Pell Grant award – an important step toward making higher education affordable for all Americans. AAU has updated its funding priorities table to reflect the final status of FY23 appropriations.

Researchers in a lab working on a robotic armAAU Members Lead Nation’s Universities in R&D Spending

AAU members are the biggest spenders among colleges and universities when it comes to research and development, according to a report released last month by the National Science Foundation. Nine out of ten universities with the highest R&D spending, per the FY21 Higher Education Research and Development survey conducted by the NSF, are AAU institutions. Johns Hopkins University was the number one spender, with $3.18 billion in R&D expenditures; the University of Michigan was third, with $1.64 billion in spending.

According to the NSF, academic institutions spent a total of $89.9 billion in FY21 on R&D, $3.4 billion or 4% more than they did in FY20. Federal funding accounted for 55% of total expenditures, while funds from the universities themselves accounted for another 25%.

students studying togetherResearch Universities and Undergraduate Education

Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an opinion piece written jointly by AAU President Barbara R. Snyder and Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals and former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The piece emphasized how universities, particularly research universities, must refocus on undergraduate education as a top priority.

Research universities, including AAU members, routinely contribute to significant scientific and technological advances that benefit everyone. But, as President Snyder and Thorp noted in the op-ed, the American public believes that preparing students for future success and jobs ought to be universities’ top priority.

One way that universities can improve undergraduate education, they suggested in the piece, is by reducing the “large disparity in outcomes related to future employment, and to the attainment of desired degrees between historically advantaged groups in higher education and historically disadvantaged groups.” Some strategies for how universities can reduce this disparity while promoting excellence in undergraduate education, they noted, are included in the Boyer 2030 Commission report – The Equity/Excellence Imperative: A 2030 Blueprint for Undergraduate Education at U.S. Research Universities – released earlier this year.

As President Snyder and Thorp wrote in the piece, “Every research university needs to commit, state publicly, and make good on the idea that undergraduate education and student welfare are top priorities.” Only when research universities do this would they be able to “effectively pursue other critical goals, like delivering groundbreaking research,” the authors wrote.

The back of a work authorization card showing the USCIS logo and nameDHS Proposes Fee Increases for USCIS Services

The Department of Homeland Security is proposing fee increases for most services provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – the federal agency responsible for processing and evaluating applications for immigration benefits such as work authorization, naturalization, and more.

Per the DHS notice, USCIS conducted a comprehensive fee review and concluded that it needs additional funding to meet higher demands and to hire more staff. The notice stated that, without increasing fees, USCIS will suffer a $1.89 billion deficit. The agency relies extensively on application fees to support its operations and last adjusted its fees by 21% in 2016.

The new schedule includes proposals to increase fees for those seeking employment authorization, including international students applying for optional practical training after graduation, as well as filing fees for employers looking to hire high-skilled immigrants. The latter would affect colleges and universities by adding to the costs of recruiting and retaining international faculty and researchers.

Public comments on the proposed fee adjustments can be submitted until March 3, 2023.

U.S. Consulates Temporarily Suspend Visa Services in China

On December 15, 2022, U.S. consulates in China temporarily suspended all routine visa services, including for students, because of rising rates of COVID-19 infections. In addition, Chinese nationals traveling from China must now submit a negative COVID-19 test before they can be admitted to the United States.

These new changes are likely to continue having a negative effect on Chinese student enrollment in the United States, which has already precipitously declined since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

News of Interest

The Boston Globe: How to Open the STEM Pipeline – In an opinion piece, Philip J. Hanlon, president of Dartmouth College, and Sian Leah Beilock, president of Barnard College and future president of Dartmouth, argue that educators can help diversify STEM by breaking entry barriers to science and firing up “students’ imaginations with the real-world problems they might solve through science.”

The Orange County Register: Caltech Scientists Just Took a Huge Step in Harnessing Solar Power for Energy; Here’s How – Scientists from the California Institute of Technology launched a prototype spacecraft this week that is designed to collect solar energy, convert it into electricity, and beam the electricity back to Earth. According to Caltech, the project could provide “a way to tap into the practically unlimited supply of solar energy in outer space.”

Politico: Biden Launches Defense of Student Debt Relief at Supreme Court – Last Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a brief in the Supreme Court defending the Biden administration’s student loan relief program, which seeks to provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to eligible borrowers. The nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the program in February.

The New York Times: Asian Researchers Face Disparity with Key U.S. Science Funding Source – A new study shows that scientists of Asian descent have the lowest chances of winning grants from the National Science Foundation to support their research as compared to other racial and ethnic groups. The study found that Asian scientists’ success rate for NSF proposals is 20% below the average and that the disparity has persisted for 20 years.

CNN: U.S. News & World Report Is Changing How It Ranks Law Schools – Last year, several top law schools announced that they were pulling out of U.S. News & World Report rankings. In response, the magazine issued a letter last week announcing that it was making several changes to how it evaluates law schools, such as giving less weight to reputation and more to “measures such as bar exam pass rates and employment outcomes.”

Forbes: Tulane, University of Chicago Allocate Millions to Support New Start-Ups – The University of Chicago and Tulane University have created programs that would invest millions of dollars in start-up businesses over the next few years. Chicago will invest $25 million over the next decade in businesses started by faculty, students, staff, or alumni or that use intellectual property owned by the university. Tulane will invest $10 million over the next five years in businesses started by women and minorities in the New Orleans area. The investments are part of larger efforts to help commercialize university research and bring innovative new products to market.

Featured Research

trees in a forest

Old-Growth Trees More Drought Tolerant Than Younger Ones

Researchers from the University of Michigan,  Indiana University, the University of Iowa, and other institutions have found that mature trees in a forest’s upper canopy are better able to withstand drought conditions than younger trees. The research shows the importance of maintaining old-growth forests, which store large amounts of carbon and help mitigate climate change.


A New Breed of Nonhormonal Birth Control

With funds from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at Boston University are developing a dissolvable patch that could prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as HSV and HIV infections. The nonhormonal contraceptive uses monoclonal antibodies grown on tobacco plant leaves and has shown promising results in early clinical trials.

Stat of the Week


A pie chart showing that a majority of Americans oppose taxing charitable donations to colleges and universities

A Majority of Americans Oppose Taxing Charitable Gifts to Colleges and Universities

A recent study of American adults conducted by SSRS on AAU’s behalf showed that a majority of Americans (55%) oppose the federal government taxing charitable contributions made to colleges and universities. Less than a third of those surveyed (32%) expressed support for taxing contributions and 13% responded with “don’t know.”

Charitable gifts are a critical revenue source for colleges and universities. They supplement federal and state investments and make higher education accessible to all Americans. Institutions use donations to fund operations, student scholarships, scientific and medical research, and much more.