The presence of research centers on university campuses has expanded dramatically over the past two decades. The research center is a prominent feature of the contemporary academic landscape with some institutions hosting dozens or even more than one hundred. They are important not only due to their sheer number but also because they reflect deeper undercurrents on what is happening in universities. Research centers are entities that arrange human and material resources for research in specific ways that contrast with the rest of their academic environment. At the same time, there is diversity among centers depending on the rationale for their existence, the circumstances and profiles of their members, and the specific academic contexts of HBCUs, EPSCoR, and Majority universities. In this article, we explore the correspondence between the role of centers and their function in context, on the one hand, and the patterns of human, social and material resources that emerge on the other. It highlights dimensions of value and impact of a research policy instrument, namely, the research center, when a broader framework of assessment that considers its effect on the overall academic system is used. We do so with a mixed methods approach that combines a set of qualitative case studies of centers and the results of a survey of academic researchers both affiliated and not affiliated with research centers in each academic context. With a triangulation design, the results of the two methods are analyzed with a convergent approach. We find that research centers are transitional entities with different local impacts and that some differences in the profiles of participating and non-participating researchers seems to be emerging. Copyright The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Oxford University Press.