Academics ranked these schools as the most innovative.
Higher education often seems 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.
9 (tie). Elon University (NC)
Overall National Universities rank: 83 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 7,117
Four-year graduation rate: 79%
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, commonly known as Innovation LLC, for students interested in entrepreneurship. In the works is The Innovation Quad, a section of campus that will serve as a hub for science, technology and design programs.
Learn more about Elon University.
9 (tie). University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
Overall National Universities rank: 23 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 47,907
Four-year graduation rate: 81%
The University of Michigan‘s Center for Academic Innovation offers a variety of programs, including an XR initiative that supports the development and application of extended reality technology. The center also sponsors teach-outs, which are online events about important issues that connect scholars from all over the world.
8. Purdue University–West Lafayette (IN)
Overall National Universities rank: 49 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 45,869
Four-year graduation rate: 60%
Purdue leans into innovation through program offerings such as the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship and investment funding opportunities for startups. Purdue sent shock waves through the world of higher ed in 2018 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.
7. Stanford University (CA)
Overall National Universities rank: 6 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 15,961
Four-year graduation rate: 74%
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.
6. University of Maryland–Baltimore County
Overall National Universities rank: 162 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 13,497
Four-year graduation rate: 44%
The University of Maryland–Baltimore County recently joined the University Innovation Alliance, a national coalition of schools committed to boosting college graduation rates, maximizing students’ academic performance and sharing best practices. 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.
5. Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
Overall National Universities rank: 25 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 14,189
Four-year graduation rate: 80%
A well-regarded research university, Carnegie Mellon is home to more than 100 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. Another is the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, which concentrates on plant science and the history of botany.
Learn more about Carnegie Mellon University.
4. Georgia Institute of Technology
Overall National Universities rank: 38 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 39,772
Four-year graduation rate: 47%
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. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Overall National Universities rank: 2 (tie)
Total undergraduate enrollment (fall 2020): 11,254
Four-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. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, handpicked three people with ties to MIT for its astronaut candidate class in 2021. MIT has educated dozens of past and current astronauts.
Learn more about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
2. Georgia State University
Overall National Universities rank: 239 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 36,343
Four-year graduation rate: 29%
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.
1. Arizona State University–Tempe
Overall National Universities rank: 117 (tie)
Total enrollment (fall 2020): 74,795
Four-year graduation rate: 51%
Arizona State has more than doubled its research spending in the last 10 years. The school took fourth place among leading universities in both the patent ranking and the startup ranking released by the Association of University Technology Managers during spring 2021. ASU is regularly ranked among the top schools in the U.S. News Best Online Programs.
Learn more about Arizona State University–Tempe.
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Update 12/21/21: This article has been updated with new information based on the results of the 2022 Best Colleges rankings.