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Higher ed playing outsize role in rural economies

August 06, 2020

The importance of higher education institutions in helping rural communities build innovation-based ecosystems has been detailed in a report released by the Center on Rural Innovation. Higher Ed’s Key Role In Rural Innovation Ecosystems profiles 10 colleges and universities that have been engaged in their area’s innovation environment and explores what techniques each institution has found most useful in building that ecosystem.

While each college and university has a different roadmap toward building their area’s innovation environment, the Center on Rural Innovation found four primary categories that play an important part in higher ed’s contributions to building rural innovation and tech-based ecosystems:

  • Digital skills programing – The report notes that rural colleges and universities have found success in expanding their information technology offerings, providing students with a stronger foundation of digital skills and potentially attracting growing tech-based industries. Additionally, higher education’s focus on expanding information technology programing can also lead to stronger connectivity for the area, attracting broadband service providers that otherwise would not have invested with the rural community.
  • Institution-led accelerators and incubators – The authors note that in addition to providing needed support to budding and established entrepreneurs, incubators and accelerators can often utilize spaces within the area and build connections within the community, extending the innovation ecosystem beyond the university campus.
  • Accessible and local physical spaces – Having a university’s innovators and entrepreneurs working in locations within the community can help establish “town-gown relations”. This visibility and inclusiveness allow for the development of a stronger entrepreneurial/innovation culture within the area and strengthens the connection between the higher education institution and the community.
  • Collaboration and community engagement – By collaborating with local economic development groups, entrepreneurship programs, or other local anchors, the authors found that higher education institutions can better understand the needs of the communities they serve and collaborate on solutions.

The full report may be accessed here.

higher ed, rural, innovation