The Contribution of Higher Education Amid a Troubled Economy

January 28, 2010 by Emsi Burning Glass

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A familiar story is unfolding in nearly every state. Most legislatures are currently in session, and lawmakers are agonizing over cuts to state education budgets.

By now politicians are well versed in anecdotal evidence on the importance of investing in education — from early development classes through college. But what about definitive numbers on the return on investment of higher education?

Over the past few years, we have seen that when colleges and universities are equipped with hard and objective data on their total economic contribution they can often stave off or reduce crippling funding losses. This case study from Wisconsin is just one example.

Consider this quote from Paul Gabriel, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Technical College District Boards Association:

The results of our statewide economic benefits study were instrumental in the unprecedented restoration of millions in state funding cuts already made by the legislature’s budget committee to our colleges. A vote to restore funding by the same committee that cut it just weeks before was simply unheard of.

EMSI has now conducted nearly 1,000 economic impact studies for various types of education institutions. The response has been positive, largely because the studies go beyond the traditional impact analysis by providing a qualitative assessment of how education improves the overall quality and earning potential of the regional workforce.

But that’s not all. EMSI’s studies highlight how colleges are accountable to the regions they serve and measure whether it makes economic sense for the students to attend the colleges, and/or if the returns to the taxpayers warrant continued funding at the same or different levels.

One of EMSI’s latest projects is an impact study for the University of Idaho, where leadership recently presented preliminary results to the state’s chief budget committee. EMSI’s analysis showed the University of Idaho contributes nearly $1 billion to the state’s economy every year, accounting for 1.9% of total economy.

According to Idaho President Duane Nellis, “Higher education is even more important to Idaho when the state is facing economic difficulties. … This is an impressive figure and it demonstrates the beneficial impact that we have on Idaho’s economy.”

Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton expressed a similar sentiment recently after EMSI showed his institution contributes $1.9 billion per year to Northeast Ohio. Said Lefton, “At a time when companies and organizations are asked to be more accountable and quantify their worth, this report documents the value of a Kent State education for not only our students, but also our alumni, the communities we serve and our regional economy.”

If you are interested in an economic impact study for your institution, please contact Rob Sentz at 208.883.3500.