ASU ranked No. 1 in innovation for the fourth year in a row

ASU President Michael Crow says the ranking reflects the University's identity

Most ASU students could recite the ranking in their sleep: ASU is No. 1 in innovation. It’s a title that ASU just claimed for the fourth year in a row thanks to a U.S. News and World Report ranking released late Sunday.

The University has topped the list every year the ranking has existed. 

In a press release on Monday, ASU President Michael Crow said the ranking “acknowledges something important about who we are and who we will continue to be: a university that brings diverse intellects together to solve the most pressing issues of our time.”

According to Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report, ASU earned its ranking by “making the most innovative improvements with respect to factors including curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology and facilities.” 

The ranking was compiled by asking college presidents, provosts and admissions deans to nominate colleges and universities for their innovative improvements, according to the ranking methodology.

The University attributes its success in innovation to a number of programs, including the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which provides tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees for an ASU Online degree; the Global Freshman Academy, which allows students to take ASU Online classes and only pay for the credit if they pass; and the Global Sport Institute, a multidisciplinary research institute focused on sports. 

The University also cited facilities including the Student Pavilion, Sun Devil Stadium and the Fulton Schools Residential Community at Tooker House as examples of innovation. The University said Tooker House’s use of the Amazon Echo Dot devices makes it “the first voice-enabled residence hall at a university.” 

Other innovative highlights include a “virtual-reality biology lab for online students," which is a program aimed at helping first-generation college students study abroad, and a partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to “increase diversity among museum professionals,” according to the University press release. 

The University’s Chief Research and Innovation Officer, Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, said he is proud ASU won for a fourth straight year, but that the University's spirit of innovation does not stem from wanting to be at the top of a list. 

"The goal is to be constantly innovating," he said. "The rankings are outcomes, but the objective is to be innovating every day in everything that we do."

He said this spirit goes through all parts of campus, from how teachers give lectures and use technology to how ASU interacts with partners like Adidas and Starbucks. 

"This is a testament to the innovative mindset and the spirit that permeates ASU in everything we do," Panchanathan said.  

While ASU held its first-place rank, Stanford, which was ranked second last year, fell to fifth place in this year's rankings. Stanford was replaced by Georgia State, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in third place. 

In its press release, ASU said that it and Georgia State are both dedicated to “creating greater access to higher education.” Georgia State is a member of a coalition of 11 public research universities called the University Innovation Alliance.

The alliance, which is chaired by Crow and includes ASU, notes in its prospectus that its primary goal is to “significantly increase the number of low-income Americans graduating with quality college degrees.” At ASU, Crow has increased student enrollment by about 89 percent throughout his 16-year tenure, The State Press reported last week. 

Even though the University has expressed excitement over its ranking, not all students think it’s such a big deal. 

“To be brutally honest, I don’t really care about the ranking of ASU in innovation," Adam French, a junior majoring in future of innovation society said. "I just care about how my classes are going and what my experience here is like." 

And while ASU is ranked No. 1 in innovation, it places 115th in the U.S. News ranking of best universities nationwide, the same ranking the University earned last year. UA is ranked 106th compared to 124 last year. This ranking is based on factors including graduation rates, retention rates, admissions test scores, alumni giving, class size and faculty salary, among other indicators. 

In the past, Crow has criticized rankings like the U.S. News best school ranking that use selectiveness to measure university quality. 

“Every year ‘elite’ colleges and universities select a tiny fraction of the thousands and thousands of smart, talented and capable students who apply,” he wrote in a 2015 LinkedIn post. “These institutions then show up on highly touted rankings of the most selective schools in the country, as if a razor-thin acceptance rate was in and of itself a sign of achievement and a model of success.” 

Instead, according to ASU’s mission and goals, Crow has chosen to focus on values like accessibility, social embeddedness and, yes, innovation. 


Reach the reporters at maarmst7@asu.edu and ajhowar6@asu.edu or follow @MiaAArmstrong and @andrew_howard4 on Twitter.

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