Academics ranked these schools as the most innovative.
Higher education is notoriously slow to change, but some colleges are more willing to take risks and try new approaches. To recognize colleges on the cutting edge, U.S. News ranks the Most Innovative Schools based on the results of peer assessment surveys sent out as part of the annual Best Colleges rankings. Academics are asked to nominate up to 15 colleges that are making promising innovations in areas like curriculum, campus life and technology, among others, but are not required to specify why they submitted those schools for consideration. Here are the top 10 Most Innovative National Universities, a category encompassing schools that tend to be research-oriented and offer a full range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral programs.
10. Elon University (NC)
Overall National Universities rank: 88 (tie)
Total enrollment: 7,088
4-year graduation rate: 82%
Elon University has several projects that demonstrate its interest in innovation. First is the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is focused on experiential education, according to the college’s website. Elon also offers the Innovation Living Learning Community for students interested in entrepreneurship. In the works is the Innovation Quad, a new building complex that will serve as a hub for science, technology and design programs.
Learn more about Elon University.
9. University of Maryland–Baltimore County
Overall National Universities rank: 160 (tie)
Total enrollment: 13,602
4-year graduation rate: 42%
The University of Maryland–Baltimore County is known as an innovator because of its research activity and strong programs in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, according to the college’s website. UMBC also has a Center for Leadership and Innovation Offerings, which facilitates training for entrepreneurs and business leaders to enhance teamwork within organizations.
Learn more about the University of Maryland– Baltimore County.
8. Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
Overall National Universities rank: 26 (tie)
Total enrollment: 14,799
4-year graduation rate: 76%
A well-regarded research university, Carnegie Mellon is home to 100-plus centers and institutes stretching across a vast range of disciplines, its website notes. An example is the Integrated Innovation Institute, which brings together the fields of engineering, design and business on its campuses in Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley.
Learn more about Carnegie Mellon University.
7. California Institute of Technology
Overall National Universities rank: 9 (tie)
Total enrollment: 2,237
4-year graduation rate: 84%
Though relatively small in terms of enrollment, the California Institute of Technology is mighty when it comes to research prowess. The college houses more than 50 research centers and institutes, according to its website, and around 90% of students participate in undergraduate research while at Caltech.
Learn more about the California Institute of Technology.
6. Stanford University (CA)
Overall National Universities rank: 6 (tie)
Total enrollment: 17,249
4-year graduation rate: 73%
Located in Silicon Valley, Stanford can count tech giants such as Google and Hewlett-Packard among its neighbors. And in an area known for innovation, Stanford has many contributions of its own. The college website lists a variety of inventions to come out of Stanford, including a diagnostic test for tuberculosis, data analytics software, advancements in high speed internet and even Google itself.
Learn more about Stanford University.
5. Purdue University–West Lafayette (IN)
Overall National Universities rank: 53 (tie)
Total enrollment: 44,551
4-year graduation rate: 59%
Purdue leans into innovation through program offerings such as the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship and investment funding opportunities for startups. Purdue also made headlines — and sent shock waves — in the world of higher ed in recent years when it purchased the for-profit Kaplan University to expand online education through what is now known as Purdue University Global.
Learn more about Purdue University–West Lafayette.
4. Georgia Institute of Technology
Overall National Universities rank: 35 (tie)
Total enrollment: 36,127
4-year graduation rate: 46%
Like other schools on this list, Georgia Tech is well known for the research it produces. It is also home to the Enterprise Innovation Institute, a business outreach organization that helps scientists and engineers commercialize technology and that supports industry initiatives and development locally and across Georgia, according to the university’s website.
Learn more about the Georgia Institute of Technology.
3. Georgia State University
Overall National Universities rank: 206 (tie)
Total enrollment: 35,059
4-year graduation rate: 28%
In addition to being highly regarded for its research initiatives, Georgia State has also received significant media attention in recent years for increasing efforts to guide undergraduate students to graduation. Georgia State has introduced chatbots to answer student questions and has deployed predictive analytics to enhance its academic advising efforts and keep students on a path to graduation.
Learn more about Georgia State University.
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Overall National Universities rank: 4 (tie)
Total enrollment: 11,520
4-year graduation rate: 87%
MIT looms large as a research institution. Research that has emerged from MIT over the years includes advancements in high-speed photography, developing guidance systems for space travel — while also producing 14 astronauts — and “capturing the first direct image of a black hole” in 2019, according to the MIT website, which also notes more than 85% of undergrads participate in faculty-led research.
Learn more about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1. Arizona State University–Tempe
Overall National Universities rank: 103 (tie)
Total enrollment: 53,286
4-year graduation rate: 53%
Though the Arizona State website notes it has doubled research funding in the last 10 years, it may be best known for its outsize role in online education. ASU is regularly ranked among the top schools in the U.S. News Best Online Programs. Even as student headcounts fall across higher ed due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, ASU recently announced a 7.4% total enrollment increase for fall 2020.
Learn more about Arizona State University–Tempe.
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Most Innovative National Universities
— 1. Arizona State University–Tempe
— 2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
— 3. Georgia State University
— 4. Georgia Institute of Technology
— 5. Purdue University–West Lafayette
— 6. Stanford University
— 7. California Institute of Technology
— 8. Carnegie Mellon University
— 9. University of Maryland–Baltimore County
— 10. Elon University
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