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In the time since first receiving the R1 classification in 2011, VCU has brought its research endeavors to even greater heights. (Allen Jones, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

What it means to be an 'R1' top-tier research university

For more than a decade, VCU has been classified by the Carnegie Foundation as an “R1” institution in recognition of its high research activity. Here’s what that means for our faculty, students and beyond.

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Research, innovation and creativity are the lifeblood of Virginia Commonwealth University. These core components of VCU’s mission are what connects faculty, staff and students across disciplines and campuses. Since 2011, VCU has been classified as one of the top-tier (also known as R1) research universities in the United States. 

“As a top-50 ranked U.S. public, urban research university with a focus on knowledge creation, this highlights VCU’s commitment to developing solutions to complex societal problems interwoven with some of the most intractable scientific challenges of our time,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “Driven by the dedication and skilled talents of our research enterprise, VCU is a burgeoning hub for transformative innovation. Guided by the four key initiatives of our strategic plan and supported by an underlying culture of collaboration and inclusivity, we continue to have impact locally, nationally and globally as we strive to advance health and medicine, address disparities, and overall – improve the human condition."

“VCU’s R1 designation as one of the nation’s top public research universities is more than a point of pride for our students, it’s an invitation to get involved and be part of an uncommon culture of student scholars on campus,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “VCU students who participate in research and knowledge creation earn higher grades and graduate faster. Along the way, they acquire the problem-solving skills that are in high demand in every field of study and every career pathway. More than 4,000 VCU students participate in formal research and knowledge-creation activities, and we’re excited to see those numbers growing.”

What exactly is the R1 classification? 

R1 is an elite designation given by the Carnegie Classification of Institution of Higher Education to universities with the highest levels of research activity. Among nearly 4,000 degree-granting institutions across the United States, only 146 (about 3.7%) held this designation in 2021.

How is the classification determined?

R1 designations are based on several factors related to research and development, including the number of doctoral degrees available, the amount the institution spends on research, the number of research staff in science and engineering fields, and the level of research activity. 

In the time since first receiving this classification in 2011, VCU has brought its research endeavors to even greater heights. 

The growth of VCU’s research enterprise is one of the fastest among Virginia universities. In fiscal year 2022, VCU received more than $400 million in sponsored funding, a 49% increase in just five years and the highest figure in the university’s history. 

The research efforts conducted at VCU have also climbed in national and global recognition. In 2022, VCU was named among the 30 most innovative public universities and one of the top 50 public research institutions in the country. From an international perspective, VCU is ranked among the top 20% of universities in the world

What does R1 mean for students?

As an R1 university with deeply ingrained teaching values, VCU provides a transformative learning environment unlike any other to develop the next generation of leaders. 

Offering more than 240 programs of study, including 31 graduate schools and programs ranked among the country’s top 50, VCU gives students a wide range of opportunities to pursue their passions and gain experiences that set them up for success in whatever career they choose. 

With access to cutting-edge laboratories, innovative studios and world-class faculty mentors, students can investigate new ideas, help with knowledge creation, form invaluable connections and develop important skills for entering the workforce.

VCU is also dedicated to bringing research-based learning opportunities to students at every stage of their education, including at the undergraduate level. From fellowships and work study programs to research-focused courses, VCU provides its large, diverse student community with a variety of access points for immersing themselves in research. Undergraduates often find themselves working alongside Ph.D. students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty mentors, sometimes presenting at conferences with them and even co-authoring papers published in prestigious journals.

What does R1 mean for faculty and staff?

The scholar community at VCU is crucial to advancing the frontiers of knowledge, and VCU’s R1 designation highlights the excellence and impact of the research conducted by our faculty and staff. As part of a top-tier institution, our investigators are accelerating the pace of science, developing bold initiatives and making breakthroughs and innovations that affect people in the Richmond community and across the globe. 

VCU’s R1 status also reflects the national and international reputation of our academic staff among their research communities. As of 2022, more than 200 VCU faculty are listed as the top 2% of most-cited scientists across the globe. They are leaders in their fields, work to shift research paradigms and partner with industries and institutions to create meaningful change. 

In addition, the distinction emphasizes the strength of VCU’s research infrastructure and culture of collaboration. Home to 16 schools and colleges, an academic medical center and more than 50 institutes, centers and core laboratories, VCU fosters an environment that promotes transdisciplinary teamwork and ensures researchers have the resources needed to advance their studies.

What does R1 mean for our communities? 

VCU is one of 64 R1 institutions to also hold Carnegie Classification’s “Community Engagement” designation. Having both classifications is a testament to VCU’s mission to strengthen the well-being of surrounding communities through its research efforts. 

Our investigators seek out the needs and perspective of diverse populations and integrate community partner input in the design and execution of research projects. By combining academic excellence with community collaborations, VCU researchers are developing knowledge, ideas and solutions that have a real-world impact, both locally and beyond.