Arizona State University tops the list of “most innovative schools” in the newly released U.S. News & World Report college rankings for 2016. “Most innovative” is a new category for the widely touted set of annual rankings by the magazine, which compares more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics.
ASU topped the list based on a survey of peers. College presidents, provosts and admissions deans around the country nominated up to 10 colleges or universities that are making the most innovative improvements to curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.
After ASU, the four most innovative universities were Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Maryland – Baltimore County and Georgia State.
“ASU differentiates itself by keeping society’s needs at the forefront of all its efforts, whether we are educating students for careers that don’t even exist yet or conducting research to understand complex challenges like water security,” says Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. “The university also infuses every department with an entrepreneurial mindset, supporting students and faculty in developing solutions that can have real impact.”
ASU engaged more than 12,000 students in entrepreneurship programs such as Launch Days and Start-up Spring Break in 2014-2015.
SafeSIPP is a startup company launched by a team of ASU undergraduates. The team designs and produces water-purifying devices for developing countries. In 2013, SafeSIPP co-founder Jared Schoepf was named a finalist in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
“ASU provided us with so many opportunities to excel in entrepreneurship and other projects,” says Schoepf. “We went to several competitions and we realized that ASU gave us that upper edge to compete.”
ASU offers numerous resources to support students, faculty and community entrepreneurs at every stage of their ventures. This includes helping startups license intellectual property created by ASU researchers. To date, 80 companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, attracting more than $500 million in external funding – including $40 million in 2015.
Schoepf and his team launched their product as part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He says they won several grants totaling more than $50,000 to launch their product, including rent-free manufacturing space provided by ASU.
“It’s spectacular what they allowed us to do,” says Schoepf, who is now pursuing his doctorate in chemical engineering at ASU.
Since 2011, ASU student-led companies have received over $2.6 million in external funding.
ASU has also launched unique programs focused on widening access to higher education, which is a mission of ASU President Michael Crow.
Last year the school announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a partnership with the coffee company that offers full tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees who pursue an online degree through ASU. And this fall saw the debut of ASU’s Global Freshman Academy, in which students can take online classes and decide after completion whether they want to pay for the credits, which are offered at a rate of $200 per hour.
New academic programs anticipate the skills that ASU graduates will need in a rapidly changing knowledge economy. For example, the W.P. Carey School of Business, which maintained its top-30 ranking for undergraduate business schools in the magazine’s listings, was among the first to create a master’s of science in business analytics. Students in the program learn how to harness the power of massive amounts of data. The program, which was started in response to industry demand, has tripled its enrollment in the two years it’s been offered.
This kind of responsiveness to student, community and industry needs makes ASU a powerful driver of economic development, starting here in Arizona. In FY 2014, ASU’s economic impact on the state was estimated at $4.25 billion, and more than 200,000 ASU alumni bring their skills and talents to work in Arizona.
In FY2015, ASU innovators working with Arizona Technology Enterprises filed 270 invention disclosures, launched 12 new start-up companies and received 62 U.S. patents.
ASU is also making a difference globally, particularly in the developing world through partnerships with the U.S. Agency for International Development. For example, the Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC) program has provided more than 380 technicians in 14 countries with training to install, operate and maintain renewable energy infrastructure. They have also been trained to teach these skills to future generations, making the system self-sustaining.
Innovation also needs to be self-sustaining. It is not just about starting separate programs in different departments, but also creating a culture of innovation that permeates the institution.
“You do need to create a sustainability of innovation across the breadth of the university - a little pocket here and a little pocket there just doesn’t do it,” says Dave Guston, founding director of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
He credits President Crow with fostering a foundation for innovation that has helped recruit faculty to ASU.
“The faculty members feel very comfortable crossing boundaries and engaging in collaborations that at other institutions would be treated with something between indifference and hostility,” says Guston. “Basically, the faculty we’ve brought into the new school are coming specifically to do things they felt they were not able to do at their home institutions.”