The Top 10 Most Influential Public Universities in the US

There are numerous public institutions in the US that have launched the trajectories of significant individuals and movements alike. We are talking about universities that have graduated CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, thought leaders, artists, executives, and world leaders.

However, new data suggests that 10 public universities can be classified as the “most influential” public universities in the entire country.

This data comes from a new group called Academic Influence. Using AI to create a “concentrated influence” score, Academic Influence has released a ranking based on all combined mentions of all people associated with a school, including alumni, faculty, and administrative staff.

For this article, we have picked the top 10 public universities from Academic Influence’s recent ranking. While some of these schools are household names in higher education, the results may surprise you. The link to the data source is at the end of this article.

Here are the 10 “most influential” public universities in the country.


10. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

University of Virginia
Bestbudbrian, Rotunda at University of Virginia, CC BY-SA 3.0

The University of Virginia’s influence is clear – its alumni have founded many of the world’s most important companies, including Reddit and news website CNET. Other influential alumni include poet Edgar Allen Poe, artist Georgia O’Keefe, actress Tina Fey, and eight Pulitzer Prize winners. 

Speaking of influential individuals, The original governing board of UVA was composed of three American presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. 

The University of Virginia’s tremendous impact on research cannot be overstated. Annually, UVA’s expenditure is well over $500 million, according to data tabulated by the government. For its tremendous commitment to research, UVA is among the very few universities classified as “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity.”

According to a study conducted by UVA’s own Darden School of Business, over 65,000 UVA alumni have founded companies employing over 2 million people with annual revenues of over $1.5 trillion. Needless to say, UVA has had a tremendous influence on America today economically, artistically, and politically.


9. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Urbana-Champaign, IL)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Amphylite, UIUCcampus2007, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you enjoy using the internet via a web browser, you have UIUC to thank. Home to UIUC is the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which created Mosaic, a web browser that was the foundation for Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer. 

In Howard and Matthew Greene’s seminal 2001 text The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities, UIUC was included in the list. When looking into the college’s influence, it is easy to see why. As of August 2020, UIUC’s alumni, faculty, and researchers have collectively won 27 Pulitzer Prizes, 30 Nobel Laureate designations, 2 Turing Awards winners, and even 1 Fields medalist, a mathematics award given only once every four years.

Illinois may just be the most influential public university in engineering, technology, and mathematics. The National Science Foundation noted, in 2018, that UIUC spent an unprecedented $625 million on research and development. For its commitment to research, UIUC is classified as an R1 institute by the Carnegie Foundation.

The Research Park at UIUC, opened in 2001, has been an influential center of entrepreneurial development. Tenants of the Research Park have included Yahoo, Capital One, and State Farm.


8. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Minneapolis & Saint Paul, MN)

University of Minnesota
Mulad, Pillsbury Hall, marked as public domain

Minnesota’s top 10 ranking makes complete sense when looking at the academic accomplishment of its students. Among its alumni, Minnesota has produced 127 Fulbright recipients, 25 Rhodes Scholars, 7 Marshall Scholars, and 20 Truman Scholars. Other alumni have won prestigious Guggenheim, MacArthur, and Carnegie fellowships.

Outside of academic accomplishment, the University of Minnesota has held a considerable influence in athletics. Over 120 Minnesota alumni have participated in the Olympics. Collectively, they have won numerous Silver and Gold medals.

The University of Minnesota has one of the highest expenditures for research in all of higher education. In 2018, Minnesota ranked 17th nationally when it spent nearly $1 billion on research funding. Minnesota’s efforts in spending have paved the foundation for incredible scientific innovation. Discoveries and inventions by faculty and alumni have included puffed rice, gore-tex, and pacemakers!

Bob Dylan graduated from the University of Minnesota, as did two US Presidents.

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