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Research vs. Teaching Universities

Written by Dr. Isabel Warner
Published on June 25, 2024
Research Highlights

Research-focused institutions grant doctorates, while teaching focused institutions grant master’s and baccalaureate degrees.

Research and teaching universities offer different experiences for undergraduate populations.

Public research and teaching university administration structures differ by state.

How are research vs. teaching focused institutions different?

Research and teaching universities serve different levels of students.

Four-year universities are broadly classified into three groups: research focused, master’s colleges and universities, and baccalaureate colleges (American Council on Education, 2024). Research focused, doctoral granting universities are divided into R1, R2, and D-PU (Doctoral-Professional Universities) categories. R1 and R2 universities have ‘very high’ and ‘high’ research activity, respectively, and award at least 20 doctorates per year, while spending at least $5 million annually on research.

Master’s colleges and universities, by contrast, award at least 50 master’s degrees, and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees per year, and are divided by size into M1, M2, and M3 categories. M1 schools award at least 200 degrees per year, M2 schools award 100-199 degrees, and M3 schools award 50-99. Some schools that award fewer than 50 master’s degrees can qualify for M3 status if their enrollment profile is exclusively or majority graduate students, and they award more graduate than undergraduate degrees.

Finally, Baccalaureate colleges are institutions where more than half of students receive a bachelor’s degree or higher, but where fewer than 50 master’s degrees or 20 doctoral degrees are awarded each year. Figure 1 shows the number of institutions in each category by state.

Both Master’s and Baccalaureate colleges are considered primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) and focus on coursework overseen by teaching faculty (NSF, 2014; Campbell et al., 2012). In contrast, research focused universities require faculty, staff, and graduate students to spend time conducting research while teaching courses (University of Kansas, 2024).

Faculty duty requirements and available resources can affect undergraduate student experience.

Because research focused universities require faculty to spend time on both research and teaching, there is a greater availability and utilization of hands-on research opportunities for and by undergraduates (Gin et al., 2021). By nature, research focused universities heavily invest in their research facilities and employ faculty whose primary focus is research. This allows undergraduates to participate in the research process, which helps develop their critical thinking skills, correlates with , and can be leveraged for greater career success (Bauer & Bennett, 2016; Jones et al., 2016; Thiry and Laursen, 2011).

However, research universities generally have much larger class sizes, and utilize teaching assistants (TAs, typically graduate students) to manage classes (Austin, 2023). This decreased facetime with professors can reduce engagement, discussion, and flexibility, which can negatively impact student outcomes such as on-time graduation and dropout rates, and disproportionately affects students from underrepresented backgrounds (Emerson, 2022; Bettinger & Terry Long, 2018; Beattie & Thiele, 2016). In contrast, PUI faculty focus primarily on teaching, with minimal research activity, allowing for smaller class sizes and more hands-on mentorship directly from faculty (Alton, 2022; Stivison, 2020, Campbell et al., 2012). One study found that PUIs have better retention of undergraduates in research internships than public, research-focused universities (Gin et al., 2021). However, that study also acknowledged that there were fewer opportunities and a lower percentage of students had applied for research experience at PUIs than at research focused universities.

Public institutions’ governance varies by state.

Institutional governance for each state is noted in Figure 1. Where there are multiple institution types, states have one of six governance types for public institutions:

  • All universities under a single system (23)
  • Independent governance systems for each institution (10)
  • Two or more university systems where at least one includes both research and teaching focused universities (9)
  • A separate system for flagship universities and associated campuses (6)
  • Independent governance systems for research and teaching focused universities (1, CT)
  • systems, each containing a mixture of teaching and research institutions (1, TX)

Separate flagship systems have a main campus focused on research activities, with at least one satellite campus that does not grant doctoral degrees (University of Illinois System, 2024). Mixed systems are typically divided by legacy university systems, such as the University of Indiana and Purdue University systems, which both contain research and teaching focused universities (University of Indiana, 2024; Purdue University, 2024). DE and CT are unique because both only have one research intensive university (University of Connecticut, 2024; University of Delaware, 2024). In CT, all are under a single system, and in DE there is only one other public university, which governs itself (Connecticut State Colleges and Universitates, 2024; Delaware State University, 2024).

Figure 1. Number of public Bachlor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral Degree granting institutions by state, and system of governance. The number of each type of institution is represented by the size of the circle (1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20), while the color indicates which type of university governance system that state employs. The number of each type of in each state was taken from the American Council on Education. System of governance data was collected from state education websites or university system websites, linked in references.



Alabama Commission on Higher Education (2024). Higher Education Governance Defined. https://www.ache.edu/index.php/higher-education-governance-defined/

Alton, D. (2022). Curious about being a faculty member at a four-year college. Fermilab Early Career Seminar Series. https://fspa.fnal.gov/early-career-seminar-series/, https://fspa.fnal.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/slides.pptx

American Council on Education (2024). Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. 2024. https://carnegieclassifications.acenet.edu/carnegie-classification/classification-methodology/basic-classification/

Austin, S.L. (2023). Research University vs. Teaching University: Which is Right for You? https://academicinfluence.com/resources/guidance/research-vs-teaching-university

Bauer, K.W. and Joan S. Bennett (2016). Alumni Perceptions Used to Assess Undergraduate Research Experience. The Journal of Higher Education. 74(2): 210-230. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00221546.2003.11777197

Beattie, I.R., and Megan Thiele (2016). Connecting in Class? College Class Size and Inequality in Academic Social Capital. The Journal of Higher Education. 87(3). https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2016.11777405

Bettinger, E.P., and Bridget Terry Long (2018). Mass Instruction or Higher Learning? The Impact of College Class Size on Student Retention and Graduation. Education Finance & Policy. 13(1): 97-118. https://doi.org/10.1162/edfp_a_00221

California State University (2024). Leadership. https://www.calstate.edu/csu-system/about-the-csu/leadership

Campbell, A.M., Omar A. Quintero, and Jennifer Frederick (2012). How to Get a Teaching Job at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution. https://artscimedia.case.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/123/2014/11/12002229/How-to-get-a-Teaching-Job.pdf

Colorado State University (2024). CSU System. https://csusystem.edu/#

Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) (2024). About CSCU. https://www.ct.edu/about

Delaware State University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.desu.edu/about/administration/board-trustees

Emerson, J. (2022). What Are the Benefits of Smaller Class Size in College? University of South Florida Admissions Blog. https://admissions.usf.edu/blog/what-are-the-benefits-of-smaller-class-size-in-college

Gin, L.E. et al. (2021). An Exploration across Institution Types of Undergraduate Life Sciences Student Decisions to Stay or Leave and Academic-Year Research Experience. CBE Life Sci Education. 20(3). doi: 10.1187/cbe.21-04-0108

Indiana University (2024). IU locations. https://www.iu.edu/about/locations.html

Jones, M.T., Amy E. L. Barlow, and Merna Villarejo (2016). Importance of Undergraduate Research for Minority Persistence and Achievement in Biology. The Journal of Higher Education. 81(1): 82-115. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00221546.2010.11778971

Purdue University (2024). Purdue Systemwide Campuses. https://www.iu.edu/about/locations.html

Stivison, E. (2020). What is it like to be a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution? American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Today. https://www.asbmb.org/asbmb-today/careers/072420/being-a-professor-at-a-pui

Thiry H., and Sandra L. Laursen (2011). The Role of Student-Advisor Interactions in Apprenticing Undergraduate Researchers into a Scientific Community of Practice. Journal of Science Education and Technology. 20: 771-784. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10956-010-9271-2

University of California (2024). Board of Regents. https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/

University of California (2024). Campuses & locations. https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/campuses-locations

University of Colorado (2024). About the CU System. https://www.cu.edu/about-cu-system

University of Connecticut (2024). Administration. https://uconn.edu/about-us/administration/

University of Delaware (2024). Leadership. https://www.udel.edu/about/leadership/

University of Illinois System (2024). About the System. https://www.uillinois.edu/leadership/

University of Kansas (2024). Differential Allocation of Effort (DAE). https://policy.ku.edu/provost/DAE

University System of Georgia (2024). University System of Georgia (USG) Facts. https://www.usg.edu/news/usgfacts

National Science Foundation (NSF) (2014). NSF 14-579: Facilitating Research at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions. https://new.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/facilitating-research-primarily-undergraduate/nsf14-579/solicitation


University Systems References (alphabetical by state)

Alabama Commission on Higher Education (2024). Higher Education Governance Defined. https://www.ache.edu/index.php/higher-education-governance-defined/

University of Alaska (2024). University of Alaska campuses. https://www.alaska.edu/alaska/campuses.php

Arkansas State University (2024). Arkansas State University System. https://www.asusystem.edu/

University of Arkansas System (2024). Campuses & Units. https://uasys.edu/campuses-units/

Arizona Board of Regents (2024). Arizona Board of Regents. https://www.azregents.edu/

The California State University (2024). Campuses. https://www.calstate.edu/attend/campuses/Pages/default.aspx

University of California (2024). Board of Regents. https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/

Colorado State University System (2024). Home. https://csusystem.edu/

University of Colorado (2024). About the CU System. https://www.cu.edu/about-cu-system

Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) (2024). About CSCU. https://www.ct.edu/about

University of Connecticut (2024). Administration. https://uconn.edu/about-us/administration/

Delaware State University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.desu.edu/about/administration/board-trustees

University of Delaware (2024). Leadership. https://www.udel.edu/about/leadership/

State University System of Florida (2024). Universities. https://www.flbog.edu/

University of Hawaii (2024). Office of the Board of Regents. http://www.hawaii.edu/offices/bor/

Iowa Board of Regents (2024). Institutions. https://www.iowaregents.edu/institutions

Idaho State Board of Education (2024). Public Education Institutions. https://boardofed.idaho.gov/board-facts/board-governance-structure/state-public-education-institutions/

Governor’s State University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.govst.edu/About/Board_of_Trustees/

Southern Illinois University System (2024). About the System. https://siusystem.edu/about/

State Universities Civil Service System (2024). Universities, Agencies, and Campuses. https://sucss.illinois.gov/pages/oai/universities.aspx

University of Illinois System (2024). About the System. https://www.uillinois.edu/leadership/

Lindsay, J. (2019). A Guide to Indiana’s Public Universities. Indiana Public Media. https://indianapublicmedia.org/stateimpact/topic/indiana-university/

Indiana University (2024). IU locations. https://www.iu.edu/about/locations.html

Purdue University (2024). Purdue Systemwide Campuses. https://www.iu.edu/about/locations.html

Kansas Board of Regents (2024). Public Institutions. https://kansasregents.org/universities_colleges/public-institutions/public_institutions_accessible_list

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (2024). Kentucky’s State Universities and KCTCS. https://cpe.ky.gov/campuses/state.html

Louisiana Regents (2024). Louisiana’s Public Institutions. https://www.laregents.edu/institutions/

Massachusetts Department of Education (2024). Public Higher Education Campuses. https://www.mass.gov/lists/public-higher-education-campuses

University System of Maryland (2024). Board of Regents. https://www.usmd.edu/regents/

University of Maine System (2024). Universities. https://www.maine.edu/universities/

Citizens Research Council of Michigan (2018). Explaining Michigan’s one-of-a-kind university governance model. https://crcmich.org/explaining-michigans-one-of-a-kind-university-governance-model

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (2024). Campuses. https://www.minnstate.edu/campusesprograms/index.html

University of Minnesota System (2024). Campuses. https://system.umn.edu/campuses

Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (2024). Missouri Higher Education Institutions. https://dhewd.mo.gov/public-and-independent-colleges.php

Missouri State University (2024). Board of Governors. https://www.missouristate.edu/BOG/default.htm

Truman State University (2024). Board of Governors. https://www.truman.edu/about/our-people/board-of-governors/

University of Missouri System (2024). About the University of Missouri System. https://www.umsystem.edu/about-us

Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education (2024). About the System. http://www.mississippi.edu/commissioner/welcome.asp

Montana University System (2024). Colleges & Universities. https://www.mus.edu/system/

The University of North Carolina System (2024). Institutions and Affiliates. https://www.northcarolina.edu/institutions/

North Dakota University System (2024). Institutions. https://ndus.edu/institutions/

The Chadron State Foundation (2024). Board of Directors. https://www.csc.edu/foundation/about-us/board-of-directors/

Peru State College (2024). Foundation Board of Directors. https://www.peru.edu/foundation/foundationboardofdirectors.html

University of Nebraska System (2024). One University. Four Campuses. One Nebraska. https://ndus.edu/institutions/

Wayne State College (2024). Wayne State Foundation Board of Trustees. https://www.wsc.edu/info/20488/wayne_state_foundation/119/wayne_state_foundation_board_of_trustees

University System of New Hampshire (2024). Our Institutions. https://www.usnh.edu/our-institutions

New Jersey Government (2024). Public Colleges and Universities. https://www.nj.gov/comptroller/news/docs/statecolleges.pdf

New Jersey Institute of Technology (2024). Administration. https://www.njit.edu/about/administration

Rutgers (2024). Our Structure. https://www.rutgers.edu/about/structure

New Mexico State University (2024). Regents of New Mexico State University. https://regents.nmsu.edu/.

University of New Mexico (2024). Board of Regents. https://regents.unm.edu/

Nevada System of Higher Education (2024). Our Institutions. https://nshe.nevada.edu/our-institutions/

New York State Education Department (2024). About the University of the State of New York (USNY). https://www.nysed.gov/about/about-usny

Ohio Secretary of State (2024). Ohio Colleges and Universities. https://www.ohiosos.gov/profile-ohio/places/ohio-colleges-and-universities/

Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (2024). About the State System of Higher Education. https://okhighered.org/state-system/

Cartwright C.A., and Richard Novack (2022). Governance Review of Oregon’s Public Universities. Commissioned by the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission for The Oregon Senate Education Committee. https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2024R1/Downloads/PublicTestimonyDocument/102951

Lincoln University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.lincoln.edu/about/board-trustees/index.html

Penn State Office of the Board of Trustees (2024). Penn State Board of Trustees. https://trustees.psu.edu/

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (2024). Our Universities. https://www.passhe.edu/universities/index.html

Temple University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.temple.edu/about/leadership/board-trustees

University of Pittsburgh (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.trustees.pitt.edu/board-trustees

Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (2024). University of Puerto Rico. https://www.aafaf.pr.gov/relations-articles/university-of-puerto-rico/

Rhode Island College (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.ric.edu/department-directory/division-college-advancement/rhode-island-college-foundation/board-directors-and-trustees

University of Rhode Island (2024). Board of Trustees. https://web.uri.edu/trustees/

Clemson University (2024). Welcome to the Board of Trustees. https://www.clemson.edu/administration/bot/index.html

University of South Carolina (2024). Our Universities. https://sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/system_affairs/system_universities/index.php

South Dakota Board of Regents (2024). Meet the schools. https://sdbor.edu/our-schools/

Austin Peay State University (2024). APSU Board of Trustees. https://www.apsu.edu/board-of-trustees/

East Tennessee State University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.etsu.edu/trustees/

Middle Tennessee State University (2024). Board of Trustees. https://w1.mtsu.edu/boardoftrustees/

Tennessee State University (2024). The Board of Trustees. https://www.tnstate.edu/board/

Tennessee Tech (2024). Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees. https://www.tntech.edu/board/

University of Memphis (2024). Board of Trustees. https://www.memphis.edu/bot/

University of Tennessee System (2024). Campuses. https://tennessee.edu/

The Texas A&M University System (2024). Universities. https://www.tamus.edu/#universities

The Texas State University System (2024). Institutions. https://www.tsus.edu/institutions.html

Texas Tech University System (2024). Institutions of the TTU System. https://www.texastech.edu/universities/index.php

The University of Texas System (2024). About The University of Texas System. https://utsystem.edu/about

Utah System of Higher Education (2024). Home. https://ushe.edu/

Virginia Secretary of Education (2024). Higher Education. https://www.education.virginia.gov/agencies-and-institutions/

Lederman, D. (2022). From 3 Struggling Public Colleges, a New University Emerges. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/08/24/3-struggling-public-colleges-new-university-emerges

The University of Vermont (2024). UVM Board of Trustees. https://www.uvm.edu/trustees

Vermont State Colleges System (2024). Where You’ll Find Us. https://www.vsc.edu/system-facts/locations/

Washington Student Achievement Council (2024). Colleges and Institutions in Washington. https://wsac.wa.gov/colleges-and-institutions-washington#public-baccalaureates

Universitites of Wisconsin (2024). Explore UW Campuses. https://uwhelp.wisconsin.edu/find-your-uws/explore-uw-campuses/

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (2024). Institutions. https://www.wvhepc.edu/institutions/

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