Baylor’s R1 Attainment an Elite Elevation in Higher Education

January 25, 2022
When Baylor earned R1 research recognition after a long pursuit of that designation, faculty across campus celebrated. For many of them, like Erica Bruce, Ph.D., it was a full circle type of moment. Bruce, now an associate professor of environmental science and graduate program director within her department, came to Baylor in 2008 with that vision in mind. Many faculty across campus can claim a similar story.

“I was at a tier one institution at Texas A&M University, and part of my recruitment to Baylor was that idea of pursuing this very goal,” Bruce recalls. “Baylor told us that ‘we are recruiting people who have been at R1 institutions, who know what high research productivity is, and we want you to help us grow this.’ So, from the time I set foot on campus, this was the goal.”

R1 research universities represent the top research universities in the nation, pursuing research solutions to the most difficult challenges. Only 146 institutions nationally have earned the top ranking from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as demonstrating “very high research activity.” Baylor’s longstanding pursuit of R1 was galvanized in recent years by the strategic plan of Illuminate, which provided the framework and roadmap to get there. With faculty, administration and students aligned across campus in pursuit of that goal, research continued to grow even amidst the challenges of the pandemic, and metrics were further enhanced through strategic hiring, investment and new programs.

“This is really a validation of Baylor University and our research that percolates throughout the university—through our recruitment of students and staff or as we pursue grants from funding agencies,” Bruce says. “They are looking at Baylor and they know we can accomplish big goals because we’ve proved we can get it done. We’ve met these metrics that bolster the impression of us throughout higher education.”


Top-tier recognition is undoubtedly exciting for an institution, but its meaning extends far beyond simply being acknowledged. When an institution is recognized among the elites, it opens opportunities that might not have been available before others in their field saw them in that new light.

“In everyone’s industry, whether we’re talking about colleges and universities or hospitals or products, there are those that stand out. If we’re talking about medicine, and you have a loved one who is diagnosed with cancer, you want to go where the best minds are doing the best work with the newest technology—places like the Mayo Clinic, St. Jude’s or M.D. Anderson. If we equate that to R1, you’re now putting Baylor in a category like that with other universities. We’re recognized with the names that everyone recognizes, like Harvard or MIT,” Bruce says, adding a comparison in retail as another example—Gucci or Prada among designers.

“There are different analogies you can use, but the point reminds—there are very well-known brands that are recognized as the best when you want quality, resources, or the best and brightest coming together. That’s what R1 is for Baylor.”


Bruce’s research has been supported by the Department of Defense among other agencies, with millions in grant funding fueling the work she and her students conduct in her lab. Baylor’s support and investment across in research across the university makes a difference in establishing her lab and work, but it’s those external dollars that are the lifeblood of research at the highest levels. R1 attainment will aid pursuit of those highly competitive funds.

Click to learn more about Bruce’s groundbreaking research that can save lives in both military and civilian settings through the development of oxygenating drugs that fight hypoxia after severe blood loss.

“The federal government has a very limited budget to do research, and they need to move the needle with how they spend it and with whom they entrust those dollars,” Bruce explains. “There has to be a way to recognize they’re going to get a good return on that investment. R1 status is almost like an insurance package, allowing them to recognize that we have the resources, the faculty and the track record that we can get it done. It’s a competitive advantage that shows we’re a good return on their investment.”

Baylor’s goal to find solutions to world’s biggest challenges came with the recognition that pursuit of R1 was commensurate to the goal of addressing multi-faceted problems. That’s a lofty ambition requiring significant investment and focus filled by the top research institutions, like Baylor.

“R1 universities are the ones coming together to address the most complex issues in medicine, global health, the environment and anything that is critical to survival and flourishing—critical to mankind. That’s what this means to me, that we are bridging resources across disciplines to address intricate problems and make strides towards solutions at top tier level.”


Bruce, who has studied and worked at a tier one institution, and collaborated with faculty from many others, believes Baylor’s continued investment and pursuit of these solutions will be further enhanced by the Christian mission foundational to the work faculty conduct. Of the 146 R1 institutions, Baylor stands out—only 37 are private universities, and Baylor’s stands distinct among that group.

“We’ve stuck to our Christian mission throughout this pursuit and it remains at the center of our desire to be R1,” Bruce says. “Our mission says something about the way we do our work and our commitment to impact humanity.”

That mission permeates relationships inside the university as well, Bruce says, in a culture of collaboration that fosters the type of cross-disciplinary cooperation that major challenges demand.

“You can find a cutthroat atmosphere at the elite levels of any industry, and higher education is no different,” Bruce says, “but I’ve found Baylor to be decidedly different. The interactions and relationships with our faculty best are influenced by our faith, which impacts our practices. You can do great work anywhere, but I’ve found a collegiality across departments at Baylor that stems from our shared commitment.”

In the years ahead, the university will advance standing plans to hire additional faculty—100 over the next five years—with R1 recognition elevating that pursuit. Faculty growth is just one way of many that Baylor will treat R1 status not as a finish line, but as a benchmark along the way. Bruce says it didn’t take long to make sure others were aware.

“The day the news broke, we immediately started using it interviews. It’s something people recognize and want to be a part of. It’s validation not only for us, but for them, that they’re going to be able to conduct research or get an education that is top notch. We are incredibly excited to recruit students, faculty and staff that will run with that and elevate it further.”
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