The Compass at Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU reaches a new national research ranking

The record ranking comes on the heels of the university’s highest sponsored funding figures.

Based on federally financed research and development expenditures, several of VCU’s research areas featured in the top 50 of the national rankings among all public research universities. (University Marketing)
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According to National Science Foundation rankings, Virginia Commonwealth University is now No. 58 of public universities nationwide for federally funded research expenditures, putting the school within reach of its goal to break into the top 50 of its peers.

The data was released in late December through the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development fiscal year 2020 survey. The new ranking improves over the 2019 ranking of  No. 65 among VCU’s public peers. The data also identified VCU as 87th in all research and development expenditures among public and private institutes of higher education. Data for the rankings is compiled and published annually by the National Science Foundation and reflects not only STEM or health fields, but also the arts and humanities.

“The improvement in this highly respected national ranking affirms our dedication to improving the human condition through research and scholarship. Our students benefit from the rich experiences and opportunities that they gain in part because of our determination to attract talented faculty and elevate VCU as one of the nation's premier public research universities,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System.

“The NSF [Higher Education Research and Development] national ranking also reflects our growing prominence and the truly amazing work of our faculty, trainees, students and staff across all campuses and disciplines, despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “An increase in research productivity, including grant submissions, awards and expenditures, resulted in the rise of not only overall national ranking, but also several of the individual areas of research.”

The FY 2020 survey covers the university’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an effort expected to also impact rankings for FY 2021, a year when VCU’s industry-sponsored funding rose 51%. The National Science Foundation calculates expenditures based on the portion of awarded research grants from various institutions, initiatives, endowments and foundations spent in a fiscal year. The remaining grant amounts carry over to future years.

Based on federally financed research and development expenditures for FY20, several of VCU’s research areas featured in the top 50 of the foundation’s national rankings among all public research universities and include:

  • No. 12 in liberal arts and other nonscience disciplines
  • No. 32 in psychology
  • No. 33 in health sciences                                                                       
  • No. 38 in Department of Health and Human Services funding
  • No. 44 in life sciences
  • No. 50 in biological and biomedical sciences

The university’s portfolio of total external sponsored funding for FY 2020 was a then-record $335 million, an amount that grew to $363 million in FY 2021. Vice President Rao said the increase in expenditures is a credit to VCU faculty and other researchers who compete to obtain awards from various institutions, initiatives, endowments and foundations.

The increase underscores the university’s recent commitment to its One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan, designed to capitalize on VCU’s growing national leadership in many fields of research and scholarship and accelerate transformative innovation. For example, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation has added new or revamped research cores and centers, putting cutting-edge equipment and highly trained staff in place to assist faculty in their work. Internal research funding opportunities announced last month by the office and the Office of the Provost will support faculty members’ collaborative efforts across VCU’s campuses and its four key research initiatives:

  • Enriching the human experience
  • Achieving a just and equitable society
  • Optimizing health
  • Supporting sustainable energy and environments

“I encourage all faculty members to review the information outlining the requirements and goals and to apply for these opportunities,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., VCU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “As the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan awards are announced in the coming months, the funded projects will contribute to increased extramural funding, professional growth and development of faculty, staff and students and above all: improving the human condition.”

The deadline for the first round of proposals for the plan’s internal funding is Feb. 1. The VCU Accelerate Fund supports high-profile, launch-ready initiatives designed to yield measurable results in research, scholarship and creative practice.

“Research is fundamental to what we do. Every diagnostic test, treatment or medication we provide is grounded in research before it reaches the bedside,” said Arthur Kellermann, M.D.,  senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System. “Patients who receive care in academic health systems like VCU Health benefit in many ways: they have the latest clinical and scientific advances, they are surrounded by highly skilled faculty, staff and trainees who are at the top of their game, and a strong research program attracts top talent from across the country. When patient care, education and research are fully aligned, it transforms medicine and saves lives.”