How Do Research Universities Contribute to Regional Economies?

By Ross DeVol

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Measuring Research University Contributions to Regional Economies


There are multiple channels through which research universities impact regional and national economies. These channels are growing in importance and scale as the fundamental output of research universities becomes ever more valuable to an economy that is fueled by innovative endeavors. Ultimately, the impact of research universities is determined by the degree to which they embed themselves and their graduates in the local business and economic milieu and contribute to the social capital building across numerous dimensions.

Research universities fulfill their mission by creating new knowledge and disseminating it. Universities achieve this by instilling new knowledge in the human capital they develop and through research and discovery that is translated to existing firms or commercialized by startups. This paper explores the processes and metrics to measure the contributions of research universities through their (1) operations, (2) human capital creation, (3) licensing and academic startup activity, (4) business and economic engagement pathways and (5) enhancing quality of place through social capital building and interactions with their communities. How do universities produce knowledge and transfer it by codified and tacit exchange with the private sector? The American research university may be one of the greatest inventions this nation has ever produced.

Research university leadership and economic development officials must understand the multifaceted dimensions to create jobs and economic opportunity in their communities. Monitoring metrics such as those contains in this report could improve focus and positively impact outcomes.

University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index (1-25)

  1. University of Utah
  2. Columbia University
  3. University of Florida
  4. Brigham Young University
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of Pennsylvania
  7. University of Washington
  8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  9. California Institute of Technology
  10. Carnegie Mellon University
  11. New York University
  12. Purdue Research Foundation
  13. University of Texas System
  14. University of Minnesota
  15. University of California, Los Angeles
  16. University of MIchigan
  17. Cornell University
  18. University of Illinois Chicago Urbana
  19. University of South Florida
  20. University of California, San Diego
  21. Arizona State University
  22. University of Central Florida
  23. Northwestern University
  24. Cleveland Clinic
  25. University of Pittsburgh


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Ross DeVol

President and CEO, Heartland Forward

Ross DeVol is President and CEO, Heartland Forward. Heartland Forward’s goal is to promote regional innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems that foster job creation, wage gains and economic growth for the American Heartland.

Heartland Forward will pursue its mission through independent, data-driven research, action-oriented convenings, such as the Heartland Summit, and impactful policy recommendations. Heartland Forward works with universities, colleges, the business community, public policy leaders and philanthropy to analyze resources supporting the startup community and identify workforce and talent gaps.

DeVol is former chief research officer for the Milken Institute where he spent nearly 20 years, an economic think tank headquartered in California. He oversaw research on international, national and comparative regional growth performance; access to capital and its role in economic growth and job creation; and health-related topics.

He has been ranked among the “Superstars of Think Tank Scholars” by International Economy magazine.

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