Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on research at the University of Hawaii and its potential to drive the state’s economy. Bruce Stevenson, former CEO of Pacific Health Research Institute (PHRI), contributed to the research for this series.

The return on a state’s financial investment in a university is a key measure of its performance.

One test of how well a university maximizes the public’s investment is faculty research productivity per dollar invested.

We examined state investment in California, Wisconsin and Vermont and compared results with Hawaii’s.1 The other universities were the University of Vermont; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Wisconsin.

We narrowed our study to three of the most familiar and telling benchmarks: publications, federal grants and faculty stature. We compared the universities’ research productivity in these areas by normalizing to faculty numbers and state funding levels.

Civil Beat found that Hawaii invests in the ballpark of the two California institutions per faculty member, and much more than Vermont or Wisconsin.

For our analysis, we considered only the money that each state allocated from its general fund to the university in question. We believe that amount paints most clearly the picture of the state’s financial commitment to its research institutions.


We looked at the number of articles published in the journals Science and Nature, widely accepted gold standards for scientific research. We then took a broader view by looking at the number of publications indexed in Google Scholar’s online search engine of scholarly literature. We also determined the number of publications appearing in PubMed, an exhaustive listing of biomedical literature. We then considered the quality of research publications through the rankings of the Higher Education and Accreditation Council of Taiwan, which uses an array of bibliometric methods to analyze and rank the performance of the world’s universities according to the number of scientific publications and their impact.

The Details: For every $100 million Hawaii has allocated to UH’s four-year campuses, its faculty have produced eight publications that made it in the research touchstone journals Science or Nature. The University of Wisconsin has produced 15 — almost twice as many, and UCSD is in that same neighborhood. The University of Vermont has produced 11. 2

For every $1 million of state taxpayer dollars spent on UH, the faculty publish or are cited in 13 academic Google Scholar-indexed articles. UH’s publication rate is less than one-seventh the rate at the University of Vermont (98 per $1 million) and half that at the University of Wisconsin (25 per $1 million). UCSD has about 2.5 times the number of indexed articles.3

The investment for PubMed publications isn’t any better. UH is at the bottom again. For every $1 million of state funding, UH faculty produced less than one research article (0.7) in 2010, along with UC Davis and close to UCSD. UW at 2.4 had more than three times as many as UH and UVM had more than 10 times the number of publications. 4

Bottom Line: Of the five universities, for every dollar of state money spent on research universities, UH produces the fewest scholarly articles in two of the three respected indexes and is second from the bottom in the other.

Federal Grants

Much of the cost of university research is covered by federal grants. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are primary funders of scientific research at U.S. universities.

The Details: UH receives about $1.90 in grants from NIH and NSF for every $10 invested by the state — about two-thirds what UC Davis receives, half the amount received by UW and UCSD, and one-seventh the amount received by UVM.

Bottom Line: Although UH attracted more than $460 million in research grants in 2010, it has the poorest record of leveraging its state funding into additional federal NIH and NSF funding.5

Faculty Stature

Finally, we looked at the overall quality of the faculties by determining membership in the National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. These are honorific societies of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific, engineering, and health research. Members are elected in recognition of their distinguished achievements; it is one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or clinician.

The Details: UH has two National Academies members for every $100 million received from the state, while UCSD has 48, UVM has 24 and even the second-lowest, UW, has 12.

Bottom Line: UH has the by far the lowest National Academies membership among its faculty per $100 million in state funding. 6

State Funding Per Faculty Member

The Details: UH receives in the ballpark of UCSD and UC Davis, but much more than UVM and UW.

Bottom Line: UH is in the group that gets the most state funding per faculty member, but is at the bottom when it comes to producing proportionate levels of research.7

UH President: Hawaii’s Investment Paying Off

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood stressed to Civil Beat that UH historically was a teaching university, not a research university, and that its educational mission is “by far the most important thing we do for the state.”

“Research is an absolutely critical element, but to say that research is the core of the University of Hawaii writ large is probably incorrect, because the educational mission is by far the most important thing we do for the overall state and for the average citizen, and I’m very proud of that,” she said.

“When we talk about our strategic plan, we mostly talk about serving the needs of the state, what are the areas of the state that are underserved educationally, what goals should we have, how do we get there?”

“If it looks like the state is investing more in us than some other states are, it’s a good investment and it’s paying off. And it will continue to. Withdrawing it will in fact ensure that the state of Hawaii has a university that can only deliver what is known and is not going to play a major role in changing things.”

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