A button to "active" innovation illustrates the idea of the most innovative states.

Can the nation’s most innovative states help higher ed?

A new ranking outlines the factors that make the nation's most innovative states stand out

Colleges and universities in the most innovative states could leverage that innovation to strengthen internship and career opportunities for their students, and now, a new ranking lays out exactly which states are at the top of innovation.

The WalletHub ranking of the most innovative states compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 innovation indicators, including share of STEM professionals and tech-company density.

Read more: 4 insights about higher-ed innovation

The findings carry weight as many university leaders say innovation is among their top focuses as they seek to strengthen student retention and produce graduates who are well-prepared for today’s workforce.

Ninety-one percent of all administrators say innovation is a top strategic or academic priority, but just 40 percent say their institution has a dedicated university innovation budget, according to The State of Innovation in Higher Education: A Survey of Academic Administrators.

If university administrators know they’re in an innovation-minded state, they could take advantage of industry leaders and forge beneficial partnerships. Prospective students who prioritize innovative partnerships and opportunities could use the ranking to guide their college search.

Read more: 5 ways innovation is inspiring higher ed

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is one such example. SNHU is re-imagining the traditional concept of college as the middle ground between high school and the workplace. In a merger with LRNG, a non-profit that serves disadvantaged youth populations, SNHU will work with cities and employers to develop innovative learning and workforce solutions. The ambitious effort will reach out to both pre-college and older learners, offer opportunities to youth from low-income backgrounds to become more engaged with their studies and help them transition into rewarding careers.

WalletHub’s top 10 most innovative states are:
1. Massachusetts
2. Washington
3. District of Columbia
4. Maryland
5. Colorado
6. California
7. Virginia
8. Utah
9. Delaware
10. Oregon

The ranking also asks a handful of experts how state policymakers can encourage and facilitate innovation.

“[Incorporating] entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship concepts and skills into school curriculums, [implementing] tax policies that incentivize entrepreneurial activity, and [setting] a culture of innovation from the top through competitive selection processes and by avoiding cronyism,” says Jason Stephens, associate professor of instruction in Columbia College of Chicago’s Business and Entrepreneurship department.

Continuing education is also another necessity as innovation leads to changing job descriptions, and colleges and universities should rise to the occasion.

Some of the skills that best equip individuals to be competitive in a changing economic landscape are “education and related skills acquisition,” says Barry Goldman, an associate professor with the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. “The economy has already changed; the old days of staying with one employer your whole life are long gone. Nowadays, workers need to constantly enhance their work skills continuously throughout their lives.”

The ranking breaks down different factors contributing to overall innovation and ranks states in each category:

  • The most innovative states with the highest share of STEM professionals are the District of Columbia, Maryland, Washington, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Virginia.
  • The most innovative states with the highest projected STEM job demand by 2020 are the District of Columbia, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
  • The most innovative states with the highest share of science and engineering graduates aged 25+ are the District of Columbia, Washington, Maryland, California, and Alaska.

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Laura Ascione

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