Written by Joanna Hughes

Urban research universities have profound commercial outcomes compared to their suburban and rural counterparts, according to a new report from the Brookings Institute, Hidden in plain sight: The oversized impact of downtown universities.

Catalysts in the Innovation Economy

While economists have long suggested that downtown universities should have commercial advantages due to their access to “factor markets,” Brookings’ findings offer the first concrete proof backing them up.

Asserts researcher and fellow Scott Andes, “Downtown universities are emerging as competitive differentiators.” Specifically, they produce 80 percent more licensing deals; disclose 123 percent more inventions; receive 222 percent more income from licensing agreements; and create 71 percent more startups than comparable schools in rural, suburban and small-town settings.

Benefits to Communities, Universities and Students

In addition to the economic advantages they create for themselves and for their surrounding communities, downtown universities also find students coming out ahead.

For starters, the paper reports that downtown universities invest more per student annually on research and development ($22,044 versus $12,633). And while full-time students at downtown schools make up just a quarter of enrollments at all of the country’s research universities, they account for 37 percent of all startups and patents, 43 percent of all invention disclosures, and 52 percent of all licensing income.”

The report also yields key takeaways for both urban and non-urban universities aiming to strategically position themselves for optimized outcomes in the future.

Concludes Hidden in plain sight, “Going forward, universities located in cities should follow what leading research institutions around the country are already doing and position themselves as central nodes of innovation and stewards of their urban economies. Universities located in college towns, the suburbs, and rural areas should find opportunities to take advantage of nearby firms and entrepreneurs by connecting, physically and programmatically, with neighboring cities.”

Learn more about studying urban development


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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