The Top 10 Most Influential Public Universities in the US

7. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, WI)

University of Wisconsin-Madison
photo via Wikimedia Commons

As a whole, the alumni at the University of Wisconsin are among the most impressive of any college in the country. Former students and faculty alike have been honored with Pulitzers, Nobels, and Olympic medals.

Innovation has been a staple of Madison’s history. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered both vitamin A and vitamin B. Speaking of nutrition, it was the faculty at Madison who conducted the seminal “Single-grain” experiment, a study conducted in 1907 that ultimately set the foundation for nutritional science for the next century.

As a research institution, Madison routinely spends over $1 billion in research expenditure. Madison typically ranks in the top 10 for money spent on research annually

Madison’s significant impact on entrepreneurship, business, and the economy is undeniable. As of November 2018, 14 Fortune 500 CEOs call themselves alumni of this influential public university, the most of any public or private university in the US. 


6. University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

University of Texas at Austin
photo via Wikimedia Commons

UT Austin is not only one of the most influential public universities in the country, it is actually the most influential college in the south. According to the publication Academic Influence, when scored for “concentrated influence,” UT Austin ranks ahead of prestigious southern private schools like Rice and Emory.

It is easy to see why UT is considered so influential: faculty, researchers, and alumni have won every conceivable award our country bestows, including Pulitzers, Olympic medals, Fields medals, and Turing awards. UT’s influence even extends into entertainment, with alumni having won the Primetime Emmy Award.

UT is a world-leader in several applied science fields, including computer science, energy, solar technology, and more. Facilities at UT that have produced groundbreaking research work include the Energy Institute and the McDonald Observatory, which houses the world’s third-largest telescope.

UT is a prominent researcher for the Navy. In fact, much of the Navy’s sonar equipment was produced through UT Austin researchers and alumni.


5. University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

University of Washington
photo via Wikimedia Commons

The University of Washington has produced thousands of alumni who have produced influential work at major technology companies, some of which are just a few miles from UW. Major Seattle-based companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing have deep, longstanding connections to the University of Washington. 

One of the oldest universities on the west coast, the University of Washington today ranks fifth nationally for research expenditure, having spent an unprecedented $1.41 billion on R&D in 2018. For its research and innovation efforts, the University of Washington is classified as an “R1” Doctoral Research University, a designation given to less than 2% of all universities in the country.

Washington is an influential leader in sustainability. In 2006, Washington partnered with the Green Up program, an initiative ensuring all of Seattle’s campus electricity comes from a renewable source. UW’s environmental ethics practices have not gone unnoticed, with the Sustainable Endowments Institute calling Washington one of the top 15 schools in the country for their commitment to sustainability.

Both Washington Monthly and ARWU, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, list the University of Washington as a top 20 school nationally.


4. University of California, San Diego (San Diego, CA)

University of California San Diego
photo via Wikimedia Commons

UCSD has long been associated with our country’s greatest minds. Indeed, faculty and alumni have collectively won an unprecedented eight MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships, three Pulitzer Prizes, eight National Medals of Science, and hundreds of other accolades. Additionally, over 100 faculty members at UCSD have been elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

However, the prestigious award winners of UCSD are not the only ones to positively influence the world. Some of their alumni who have made a tremendous global impact include Nick Woodman, creator of the GoPro camera, Mike Judge, Emmy award winner, and Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland As baseball team.

One facility at UCSD producing groundbreaking research is the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind. Through grants and sponsorships, Kavli has made essential advancements in cognitive sciences and understanding of the human brain.

Perhaps what is most impressive about UCSD is its relatively short lifespan as a university compared to its remarkable influence as a research institution. Having already transformed technology and life sciences in just 61 years of existence, UCSD is likely to remain at the forefront of innovation for decades to come.

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