In Colorado, two universities and two community colleges partnered to learn about their collective economic impact on the regional economy.
The regional economic impact of the four institutions totaled $2.4 billion.
The partnership presented the results to the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, where attendees included Senator Vicki Marble and Representative Perry Buck.
When Your Impact Is $2.4 Billion…Or Nearly 40K Jobs
In a day when the college price tag is higher than ever, the question everyone asks is, is higher education really worth it?
For students attending four particular Northern Colorado educational institutions, the answer is yes.
Earlier in 2017, Aims Community College, Front Range Community College, University of Northern Colorado, and Colorado State University came together in a unique collaboration to form Northern Colorado Public Colleges and Universities (NoCoPCU). The goal of the collaboration was to determine their regional impact and the return on investment for students, taxpayers, and society.
Here is what NoCoPCU discovered through the aggregate economic impact study (EIS) conducted by Emsi. The combined economic impact of the four institutions on Larimer and Weld Counties within one year (2015-2016) totaled $2.4 billion—the equivalent of 39,677 jobs.
The EIS also determined that for every $1 spent, students gained $3.10 in lifetime earnings, taxpayers gained $5.80 in added taxes and public sector savings, and society as a whole gained $6.30 in added state revenue and social savings.
President Kay Norton of the University of Northern Colorado explained why she was drawn to Emsi’s approach. “Many economic impact studies contain multipliers that can’t be understood or replicated. I like Emsi’s approach to addressing two things in terms of the return on investment: the individual’s benefits and the benefits to society, which are much harder to quantify but are the essence of what we talk about with our students everyday.”
Check out the infographic above for a quick summary of the EIS. Read the full report here.
Spreading the Word
The next hurdle for NoCoPCU was to share the EIS results. “Our primary audience is policy makers and community leaders who can understand our value and help spread the word,” said Mike Hooker, director of public affairs and communications at Colorado State University. “Our initial thought was, which media channels do we use to get this in front of them?”
But in the end, NoCoPCU chose a more direct route. “We made it really simple,” Hooker said.
“We decided to get everyone in the same room and talk to the very people we needed to reach.”
In August 2017, the president of each institution, along with Emsi’s assistant director of consulting, Hannah Ruffridge, presented the results to the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance. Attendees included Senator Vicki Marble and Representative Perry Buck, among other state decision-makers, as well as representatives from chambers of commerce from Fort Collins, Greeley, and Loveland. This inter-institutional collaboration was a groundbreaking event that took significant effort from each member of NoCoPCU.
John Feeley, the public relations director at Front Range Community College, explained, “We thought this was the route to take. If we were talking to them, we were talking directly to influencers. And if we could get media coverage of that presentation, that would be the bonus.” They got that bonus.
Laura Coale, executive director of communications and public information at Aims Community College, noted that one of the key steps to spreading the word was having the college presidents visit the various editorial boards in the region for print publications. The result? BizWest, Greeley Tribune, Loveland Reporter-Herald, and Coloradoan each covered the story.
How Emsi Helped
NoCoPCU has been pleased with the results of Emsi’s study, especially given the increasingly metrics-driven nature of education.
“Quantifiable answers put important meat on the bone when we talk about the value of higher education,” Hooker said. “More than ever, in all areas of our lives, people expect hard numbers and metrics to support their choices, so organizations need to provide more and better metrics to quantify value statements.”
Emsi’s conservative approach also garnered praise. The EIS netted out the opportunity cost for students (after all, they could be working instead of going to college), which President Andrew Dorsey of Front Range Community College appreciated. “Emsi was very rigorous in their analysis, making sure they didn’t add fluff to the numbers.”
Overall, the aggregate EIS helps the four institutions tell their story. Feeley said, “Nationally, you hear that higher education isn’t respected as providing value, but now we have the cold hard facts that say, here is our value.”
“It’s the proof in the pudding,” added Nate Haas, director of university news and public relations at the University of Northern Colorado. “The quantifiable piece is something we can back up.”
These colleges have a bit of parting advice. One, if you invest in measurable, definitive answers, communicate those answers directly with those you wish to influence. Two, when presenting your results, request an Emsi team member in the room—it adds credence and clarity to the report when questions come up.