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Part VI: Brown and the future of Rhode Island’s economy

For several reasons, Brown University’s contribution to the rebuilding of Rhode Island’s economy could be even greater during the next five to ten years than it is today. 

1) Continued development of the University’s academic programs

Over the course of the next five to ten years, the continuing development of Brown’s teaching enterprise will enhance the University’s contribution to the development of Rhode Island’s human capital.  

  • Undergraduate enrollment in engineering is growing, with Biomedical Engineering now one Brown’s most popular undergraduate concentrations. And with the planned addition of new faculty members, graduate student enrollment in the School of Engineering is expected to grow by as much as 50 percent over the next decade.
  • Completion of the new Medical Education Building on Richmond Street has enabled the Alpert Medical School to grow its enrollment. By 2014, enrollment will have increased by 20 percent over its 2010 level.
  • The establishment of a new School of Public Health – which the Brown Corporation is expected to approve in 2013 – will provide a foundation for continued development of the University’s already-strong public health program – the only one of its kind in Rhode Island.
  • Building on the success of the joint Brown-IE executive MBA program, the University will be adding other new graduate programs for executives and professionals. The first of these – an executive master’s degree in health care leadership – will be launched in 2013; and others are likely to follow – for example, a master’s degree focusing on data-driven decision-making.  With the continued growth of knowledge-based industries in Providence (discussed below) Brown could be well-positioned to meet the demand for professional development programs in these industries. 

These and other new programs will expand opportunities for Rhode Island residents – and will also draw talented students to Providence from around the U.S. and the world.

2) Research strengths that can drive economic growth

The growth of Brown’s research enterprise during the past five years in part reflects the University’s strengths in several research areas that could during the next decade could prove to be important sources of new knowledge, new products and services, new businesses and new jobs. They include brain science, biomedical engineering, nanoscience and technology, environmental science, and public health.

The establishment of a new Center for Energy Research – a partnership among Brown, URI and Cambridge-based Draper Laboratory – will also strengthen Rhode Island’s role in the development of solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing energy problems. Building on the Swearer Center’s Engaged Scholar’s Initiative, Brown is also well-positioned to use its research strengths to collaborate with local officials and community groups to address a wide range of other issues of concern to Rhode Island. 

Like those of other major universities, Brown’s research enterprise is seriously threatened by the prospect of sharp cutbacks in federal funding of university research. But regardless of the overall level federal research funding, the University is likely to remain (at least in relative terms) a leader in these critically important fields.

3) Increased international collaboration

In an era when the success of cities depends in part on the strength of their ties to the global economy, Brown’s international reach is a source of real competitive advantage for Providence and Rhode Island. Since 2006, the University has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at deepening Brown’s ties with institutions and communities around the world.

  • The Brown-IE executive MBA program, which graduated its first class in 2012, provides a strong connection to one of the world’s leading business schools, and each year brings a cohort of rising business executives to Providence.
  • Each summer since 2009, the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes – a partnership with Santander Universities, the educational arm of Banco Santander, has brought 150 promising young faculty members from the developing world to Providence for a program of research, lectures and discussion on critical global problems.
  • Brown has created new partnerships with several other universities as well, including Exeter University in Britain, University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and Nanjing University in China. These partnerships provide opportunities for both student and faculty exchange, and for collaborative research as well.

These and other partnerships make Brown a stronger university – but they also raise the city’s and the state’s visibility on the global stage, and will over time create an ever-growing web of relationships connecting Providence and Rhode Island to the global community.

4) Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation

The University’s increased emphasis on (and students increased interest in) entrepreneurship and innovation is already starting to pay off, as is evident from the growing list of start-up companies in Providence with roots at Brown. As the number of graduates who studied entrepreneurship through programs like BEO and PRIME increases, and with the support provided by the Founders League, the number of young Rhode Island companies with Brown DNA is likely to grow –as is their contribution to the growth of the city’s and the state’s economy. 

5) Participating in the development of the knowledge economy in Providence

As noted in Part Four, Brown is already a major participant in the development of the knowledge economy in Providence. Looking to the future, Brown is now working with state and city officials, other institutions and other interested parties (such as the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce) to determine what role the university might play in development of the state-owned land in the area that has been freed up by the relocation of I-195. This property could provide a site for future development of new research and educational facilities – and space for the growth of knowledge-based businesses as well. 

Beyond the development of University facilities, Brown will also continue to support the efforts of Brown students, faculty, staff and graduates in the development of new businesses in Providence, particularly in the city’s Jewelry District – and will thus support the continued development of a community of innovators and entrepreneurs in the city.