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The 10 Most Innovative Colleges in the Country

by Staff Writers

Like any good business, a college must innovate to survive. With rising tuition fees and more competitors entering the market, institutions of higher learning are constantly trying to stay on the cutting edge of education so that they can continue to attract students. These 10 colleges and universities stand out for the trails they continue to blaze in academia.

  1. The University Model: BYU-Idaho

    Since 2000, BYU-Idaho has instituted a number of innovations that could save higher education as we know it. The school year is year-round, which allows it to serve 50% more students while saving 20% of costs per student. That operating cost per student has only risen 3% since 2000, compared to 34% for Texas universities. BYU-Idaho also prioritizes student development over faculty and research through a quality-of-learning assessment method it calls the "Learning Model." Couple all that with online education with $65 classes, and this is one school changing the name of the college game.

  2. Engineering: Olin College

    The idea behind Olin’s founding was to create a school where students didn’t just learn engineering theory, they learned by doing in the field. President Richard Miller defines the school’s style as "student-centered" and "design-centered." Because of this philosophy, Olin is on the forefront of engineering topics like robotics. Students build things like robotic tractors and learn from faculty who are un-tenured, all at a low tuition cost. Enrollment is small enough that every student receives a scholarship, an innovative feature in its own right.

  3. Robotics: Carnegie Mellon University

    CMU regularly makes headlines for its innovations, like becoming the first campus with a wired computer network in the 1980s. In recent times, President Obama has stopped by to tout the school’s robotics program, which is working on advances in areas like military equipment and sewer systems. The school’s innovation lab is well-known as a leader in aerospace and aviation technology, and it works closely with NASA. Carnegie Mellon is also one of a handful of schools allowing students to not only create classes, but teach them.

  4. Aeronautics: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    MIT has had a long and full history of innovation in a number of fields, and it continues to discover fresh ways of doing things. The school continues to innovate research in the field of aeronautics, allowing students to use wind tunnels, design rover robots, and even collaborate with students at Georgia Tech on a Mars satellite. On a different front, MIT is pioneering social media technology on campus with its iSpots program, which can track students anywhere on campus and provide helpful data to administrators about wi-fi usage patterns, heavy traffic physical locations, and more.

  5. Admissions: Milwaukee School of Engineering

    The college admissions process is a painful experience for many hopeful students, filled with strict guidelines and often unhelpful officials. But the Milwaukee School of Engineering may have developed the solution. Their Bridge program is an original approach to the process of applying to college. Following the model of social media, the program serves as a way for applicants to create a profile and connect with admissions counselors, other applicants, and students to share advice and information. In the past, this function has been served by third-party websites; but the benefit of MSOE’s program is the school can maintain the accuracy of the information on a medium (the internet) where inaccuracy abounds.

  1. Environmental Friendliness: College of the Atlantic

    Maintaining a green campus is still a new area for college administrators to focus on, so much of what is being done is innovative. And College of the Atlantic is as green as they come. Consistently rated among the greenest colleges in the country, this school in Maine is in its fifth year of being carbon-neutral. A wind turbine serves the organic farm; every volt of electricity comes from hydropower. This spirit of environmental stewardship obviously influences the students, who spend their time creating new ways to recycle, and designing renewable power systems for use in under-developed countries.

  2. Online Education: National University

    NU is an innovator in an increasingly-crowded field of online educators. Taking course flexibility to another level, National’s enrollment is year-round because the courses are one-per-month, meaning you can start when you want and focus the study time you have on one class. The school continues to add online information centers to give students from a wider geographic range a campus to go to. The classes can be interactive, real-time, and cooperative with other students. Low tuition fees and skilled financial advisors are two innovations brick-and-mortar schools would be wise to emulate.

  3. Technology: Seton Hill

    Many colleges are experimenting with mobile technology in classrooms, but Seton Hill is jumping in with both feet. Begun in 2010, the school’s Griffin Technology Advantage involved giving every student and faculty member an iPad: "An iPad for Everyone." The idea was to turn every classroom into a potential computer lab, allowing students 24/7 access to "a world of learning." The school had begun training faculty to incorporate new tech in 2008, and two years later the Center for Innovative Teaching opened at the school to keep faculty and students abreast of the latest uses of mobile computing, and to house the InQuiryZone, Seton Hill’s extra-smart classroom.

  4. Business: Harvard University

    The words "Harvard" and "business" go together like Orville and Wilbur. The famous institution plans to stay at the top of college innovation with Hi, the Harvard Innovation lab, a place for students and people all over the world to collaborate on ideas and continue its 375-year tradition of entrepreneurship and creativity. The lab has already partnered with innovators like Peter Boyce, a Harvard student and creator of Hack Harvard and Harvard College Venture Partners. Boyce’s idea is to connect entrepreneurial students with alumni "who are building cool stuff" and provide them the tools they need to create successful products and companies.

  5. Community Awareness: Wagner College

    Many educators are starting to appreciate the need for student activism in their respective communities. To this end they are creating service learning programs, where students use classroom knowledge to benefit their neighbors. Wagner College is a leader of this movement. The focus here is on "connected learning," and students must take three learning community courses with associated weekly community volunteer work. By graduation students will have completed hundreds of hours of community service. Students are encouraged to take an Alternative Spring Break of serving instead of partying. Wagner’s approach to learning-by-doing is a truly innovative way to produce well-rounded graduates.