August 17, 2004

SIUC gains in NSF research expenditure rankings

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale hit the big 1-0-0 in its quest to become one of the country's top 75 research universities by the year 2019.

SIUC moved up four slots -- from 104th to 100th -- in the National Science Foundation's latest ranking of academic research and development expenditures at public universities and colleges. The NSF tabulates the data for the 625 institutions, out of nearly 4,000 total, that have research and development expenditures of at least $150,000.

The NSF bases this annual assessment on total research and development funds expended over the fiscal year. These funds come primarily from grants and contracts received from national, state, corporate and nonprofit sources. This year's ratings reflect money expended during the 2002 fiscal year, which began in 2001.

"This is the fourth year in a row that we have improved our ranking," said John A. Koropchak, SIUC vice chancellor for research and graduate dean. "We have never done that before -- going all the way back to 1975, which I believe is when the NSF started collecting these data."

SIUC researchers expended $53.604 million during the assessment period -- a 24 percent increase over last year.

"That's definitely the largest dollar amount we have ever had, and last year was a record,too," Koropchak said.

In addition, SIUC moved from 145th to 138th in the NSF research and development rankings that included 609 public and private schools. John M. Dunn, SIUC provost and vice chancellor, credited faculty with the rankings boosts.

"These gains are directly attributable to their efforts and hard work," Dunn said. "We have talented faculty who submitted good, competitive grant proposals."

The NSF ranking is an important measure as SIUC moves toward its goal of becoming one of the country's top 75 research universities by 2019, when the University observes its 150th anniversary. Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment is the blueprint for that growth, and Koropchak noted it contains clear research and development expenditure targets.

Because the NSF rankings carry such clout, placing well means doing well.

"It helps us attract the best students, particularly at the graduate level, and increases the value of the degrees of all our students," Koropchak said. The research dollars themselves benefit not only the University but the region as well.

"In Oregon, they figure the economic impact at about 2.5 times the amount of the grant," Koropchak said.

"We're more conservative here. We figure it at about twice the amount of the grant, but when you're talking about $53.6 million, that's huge with either factor."

When budgets are lean, grants and contracts also provide a huge boost to the University. They provide, among other things, assistantships for graduate students and a source of funds for such items as faculty and student travel to professional meetings and seed grants to help new faculty do the work necessary to apply for the big money.

"These funds help us to support the full breadth of scholarly and creative activities all across the campus, from art to zoology," Koropchak said. The University's gains also reflect the contributions of many people across the campus.

"It takes tremendous effort from a lot of people and leadership from the chancellor down to the deans and chairs, as well as the staff and students who support research efforts, to be successful in this kind of national competition," he said.

On the whole, Koropchak is optimistic that SIUC is on track to place within the top 75 by 2019.

"In 1985, we were in 84th place, but by 1998, we'd dropped to 109," he said.

"We moved down 25 places in 13 years. We have 15 years to move up 25 places. I think if we continue the rate at which we're rising now, we could reach the top 75 well before 2019."