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Penn researchers know how to keep costs low, according to a study released last week.

The study on research productivity named Penn the most productive academic institution in the nation, spending $28,547 per paper published in a scholarly journal.

Author of the study Jeffrey Litwin, associate dean at George Brown College, used data compiled by the National Science Foundation and Thomson Reuters between 1989 and 2004 to compare 72 research institutions.

Litwin’s measure of productivity — dollars spent per paper published — is unique, as research productivity is often evaluated using the number of published papers per faculty member. Litwin told The Chronicle of Higher Education that his method is an improvement over other measures because it accounts for differences across disciplines and within departments.

Penn’s Senior Vice Provost for Research Steven Fluharty agreed that there are many factors influencing the number of publications per faculty member and productivity at the department level, including “national recognition, prestigious and productive faculty collaborators, research funding [and] cutting-edge facilities,” he wrote in an email. “I view Litwin’s work to be of value in that it provides another measure by which research institutions can benchmark success.”

Others within the academic community, such as Scott Zeger, Vice Provost for Research at Johns Hopkins University, disagreed with Litwin’s method. Zeger suggested that Hopkins’ low rating on the list may have been a result of costs associated with its research affiliate, the Applied Physics Laboratory, according to the Chronicle. Hopkins, which the study ranked the least productive, spends on average of $181,811 per research paper.

Some Penn professors were surprised by Penn’s ranking.

Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote in an email that he’s “baffled by the fact that we would be able to keep our costs down relative to other universities.”

Economics professor Alan Heston “would not credit the University in actively reducing costs,” he wrote in an email. “The University may foster an entrepreneurial environment allowing individual research projects to actively pursue new funding sources.”

In his study, Litwin also found that the collective productivity of the nation’s largest research universities fell in the late 1990’s and never recovered. Large research universities are typically dependent on federal funds, which declined from 50 percent of total national research and development expenditures in 1989 to 25 percent in 2010, Fluharty explained.

Fluharty said this large fall in spending could explain the decrease in productivity.

Both Heston and Romer, however, claimed they have not witnessed a decline in research productivity at Penn. Romer suggested Litwin’s findings could be attributed to higher salaries, more complicated equipment and the fact that “the kinds of methodologies and research techniques may have gotten more expensive.”

Amy Jordan, director of the Media and the Developing Child sector of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote in an email that her sector is “always quite mindful that our research funds are carefully and wisely spent.” She also stressed the role of undergraduate research assistants in contributing to Penn’s high productivity.

Some undergraduate students are grateful for the many research opportunities.

Nicole Hwang, a rising Wharton sophomore conducting research through the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, highlighted the positive aspects of research within Wharton.

Although SPUR offers free housing and pays participants $3,000, Hwang said that research provides a realm outside of the traditional investment banking and consulting focus of Wharton.

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