Augusta Business Daily

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Simon Says: Connection between innovation and higher education?

In 2015, according to the latest year data available, there were 10 utility patents granted that originated in Richmond County. A recent study by Michael Andrews (, examines the role of higher education institutions, such as Augusta University and Georgia Tech, in local invention. Higher education institutions may affect invention directly by conducting research or indirectly by driving population growth.

Ideally, to understand the role of higher education on economic development and innovation, we would want to randomly assign universities to locations and measure innovation and economic activity before and after the move. This is clearly impractical. Andrews gets around this problem by identifying colleges that had an identifiable runner-up location at their founding. One such example is Georgia Tech, which could have ended up in Macon, but after 24 votes of the site selection committee, ended up in Atlanta. Georgia Southern University could have ended up in Tattnall or Emanuel County, instead of Bulloch County.

Andrews finds that nationally, counties that won the race to establish the college had 62 percent more patents than runner-up counties. The increase in patents is immediate, but the largest effect occurs fifty years later. College counties also see a 65 percent increase in population compared to runner-up counties.

From 1836 through 1940, alumni and faculty of universities account for just 12 percent of county patents. Sixty-two percent of county patents are by individuals unconnected to the university suggesting that the indirect effect of migration and population growth is more important. Since 1996, college alumni and faculty still account for less than 30 percent of county patents.

The clear conclusion from Andrew’s research is that institutions of higher education clearly impact invention, innovation, and economic development. The most important channel, however, is indirectly through population growth rather than directly through research.

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