Ok, so you’re at a small college, and despite the stats coming out of the R15 program lately, you’re still interested in applying. Are any of the institutes better at funding colleges than universities? Taking the data in aggregate, colleges take home ~17% of the awards and ~16% of the funds. This rate is not uniform, however. Using 17% as the norm, I did simple χ-squared analysis of the institutes, listed below. Rates significantly higher for colleges are in bold, rates significantly lower are bold and italics. Due to the way the data is reported, the numbers equal total Fiscal Years of support. So for the first row, NCCAM, 2 could equal 2 years of support for one college, or one year of support for 2 colleges (in this case it’s the latter, Macalester College and the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine).

Institute # University # College College % p-value (χ2) 2^n Difference
NCCAM 23 2 0.08 0.28 -1.1
NCI 413 78 0.16 0.55 -0.1
NCRR 3 1 0.25 1.00 0.6
NEI 108 18 0.14 0.47 -0.3
NHGRI 7 9 0.56 0.00 1.7
NHLBI 290 47 0.14 0.15 -0.3
NIA 703 145 0.17 0.93 0.0
NIAAA 30 1 0.03 0.05 -2.4
NIAID 453 89 0.16 0.73 -0.1
NIAMS 102 16 0.14 0.33 -0.3
NIBIB 36 7 0.16 1.00 -0.1
NICHD 261 75 0.22 0.01 0.4
NIDA 80 17 0.18 0.78 0.0
NIDCD 79 20 0.20 0.42 0.2
NIDCR 68 12 0.15 0.56 -0.2
NIDDK 208 25 0.11 0.01 -0.7
NIEHS 182 28 0.13 0.14 -0.4
NIGMS 1032 274 0.21 0.00 0.3
NIMH 88 48 0.35 0.00 1.1
NINDS 246 70 0.22 0.02 0.4
NINR 324 10 0.03 0.00 -2.5
NLM 2 0 0.00 NA NA

A few obvious standouts. Apparently if you can get an R15 considered by NHGRI you have a pretty good chance. Considering NHGRI has only considered 17 R15 applications in the last ten years, good luck. It’s also encouraging to look at the list of colleges that have received NHGRI funds: Villa Julie College (Now Stevenson University), Elizabethtown College, Cedar Crest College, Hope College, Dordt College. All are relatively small, none are elite powerhouses.

Well of course they aren’t powerhouses, the R15 is targeted at

educational institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH research grant funds

Right? Well… according to Wikipedia, there are 72 colleges and universities that have endowments topping $1 Billion. Surely none of them have received R15 monies, right? Or a small number? Ok, how about 33 of them? Colleges with endowments topping $1 Billion that have also received R15 grants in the last twenty years are:

  • Amherst College (USNews #2 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Grinnell College (USNews #17 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Pomona College (USNews #4 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Smith College (USNews #20 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Swarthmore College (USNews #3 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Wellesley College (USNews #7 National Liberal Arts College)
  • Williams College (USNews #1 National Liberal Arts College)

So, what’s the problem? Looking specifically at Williams, from 1990-2010, they always had at least one person with an NIH grant, a mixture of R01, R03, R15 and R29. From 2000-2010, the average funding was $340k/year. It’s no secret why: they can afford to hire elite talent, and probably have a full time dedicated grants staff. They technically fit the R15 eligibility, but to say they “have not been major recipients of NIH research grant funds” over the last 25 years is a bit rich. The same pattern holds at Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona. To their credit, no one at Williams College currently has held an NIH grant since 2010. I am unaware if that was a conscious decision.

As fun as it is to point out that the privileged, elite institutions have disproportionate access to our country’s research budget, my main interest is whether or not the NIH has any interest in changing it with regards to the R15. The NIH mission is to support research, it can easily be argued that only institutions that are well equipped to do research should have a chance to contribute. I wouldn’t like it, but it is consistent. Personally, I would like to see the NIH recognize the value of personalized instruction of undergraduates, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

More R15 stats

One thought on “More R15 stats

  • February 28, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    This is eye-opening, thanks for it. I’m sure this level of analysis is under the radar of just about everyone with the power to change things.


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