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NAU is No. 75 in National Research Ranking

For the first time in its 120-year history, Northern Arizona University broke through the country’s top 200 research universities, reaching No. 196 in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) research rankings for all universities in the country and No. 144 among all public universities.

It also rose to No. 93 among all universities without a medical school, and No. 75 among public universities without a medical school, taking into account research expenditures.

The NSF’s Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) annual survey ranks more than 900 colleges and universities and is the primary source of information on research and development expenditures.

NAU’s climb is attributed to a 15% increase in research expenditures from 2017 to nearly $53 million in 2018.

Breaking into these elite ranks has been an important goal for NAU since 2014. It represents the university’s commitment to and investment in research that is vital to students, faculty and the state.

These rankings reflect the achievements of NAU’s world-class faculty, dedicated research and support staff and talented graduate and undergraduate students. The vision and determination of academic and research leadership throughout the NAU campus have been key through the years in our rankings.

Our expert faculty are at the peak of their disciplines and I’m proud of the impact of their work. We are dedicated to teaching students to thrive in this new knowledge and technology-driven economy. Our faculty serve as mentors and role models to our students, a critical component of the graduate and undergraduate learning experience.

The annual ranking of U.S. universities by level of research activity considers total research expenditures, types of research and the number of personnel who participate in research and development.

NAU’s research touches physics, astronomy, climate and environmental science, ecology, forest health, land management, microbiology, health and social sciences, cyber systems and informatics, health equity, planetary sciences, bioengineering and material science.

Some examples of recent research awards include:


In June, Julie Baldwin and collaborators of the Center for Health Equity Research and the College of Health and Human Services received $2.8 million from the National Institutes of Health to reduce the burden of early childhood dental disease in two American Indian communities through an innovative oral health intervention.

Scott Goetz, from the School of Informatics, Computing and Cybersystems, was awarded $2.1 million in July from the US Army Corps of Engineers to investigate changing vegetation dynamics across Department of Defense lands of interior Alaska.

Ann Huffman from the Department of Psychological Sciences was awarded in July $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to improve personal and work outcomes and the quality of life for military personnel.

In August, Steve Burrell, NAU’s chief information officer, and partners received an award of $700,000 from the National Science Foundation for NAU and the Sun Corridor Network to establish high speed research network connectivity between several of Arizona’s community colleges to advance access for research and education.

In August, the College of Education received nearly $64 million from the U.S. Department of Education to support NAU’s Arizona “GEAR UP” program, to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

In September, Bertrand Cambou and collaborators in the School of Informatics, Computing and Cybersystems were awarded $6.2 million from the Air Force Research Laboratory for work at NAU and by partner industries to further develop advanced cybersecurity algorithms and hardware systems.


NAU’s national recognition in research helps attract and retain exceptional faculty, enhances experiential learning and undergraduate and graduate student research opportunities. It also grows and strengthens academic degree programs in high-demand fields, leading to further developing Arizona’s workforce, supporting jobs for students, faculty and staff, expanding the state’s economy and benefitting communities locally and around the world. FBN

By Rita Hartung Cheng

Dr. Rita Hartung Cheng is president of Northern Arizona University


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