Education

Study finds higher education adds $63.5 billion to NC’s economy

From left, Hope Williams, president of the N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, UNC system president Tom Ross and N.C. Community College System head Scott Ralls talk about the results of the first economic impact study of North Carolina higher education.
From left, Hope Williams, president of the N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, UNC system president Tom Ross and N.C. Community College System head Scott Ralls talk about the results of the first economic impact study of North Carolina higher education. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A new report says higher education as a whole in North Carolina had a $63.5 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2012-13.

The analysis is the first to measure the statewide impact of the UNC system, the state’s community colleges and the 36 private colleges in North Carolina. It was conducted by an Idaho-based firm, Economic Modeling Specialists International, commissioned by the private colleges and private funds from the public universities and the North Carolina Chamber.

Higher education leaders gathered in Research Triangle Park on Wednesday to tout the findings, as the legislative session and state budget process gets under way.

The $63.5 billion impact, which researchers said is a conservative estimate, is equivalent to the creation of 1 million new jobs and 14.6 percent of the total gross state product of North Carolina. That, said EMSI President Kjell Christophersen, is roughly equal to all of the manufacturing jobs in the state.

The study contends that higher education brings a healthy return for students and taxpayers in the form of elevated skills, jobs, research, medical care, spinoff companies, construction and spending by alumni and visitors. The formula also calculated taxpayer savings in the form of lower unemployment claims and lower smoking rates associated with higher levels of education.

State taxpayers invested $4.3 billion in higher education in 2012-13, the study said, generating a return of $17 billion on that investment.

“The higher education institutions in the state of North Carolina put much more money back into the treasury as a result of their efforts than they take out,” Christophersen said.

UNC President Tom Ross said the study shows that students and taxpayers are getting a great return on their investment in higher education.

“All of the findings show us why getting more North Carolinians better educated is critical to meeting the workforce needs of our businesses, to moving people out of poverty, to enhancing North Carolina’s economic strength and competitiveness and to improving the health of our residents,” Ross said.

N.C. Community College System President Scott Ralls said increasing collaboration among public, private and community colleges is helping to push North Carolina ahead on economic development. He cited the large biotechnology teaching factory at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, where faculty from universities and community colleges work side by side in growing a key economic sector for the state.

“It’s about collective impact,” Ralls said.

The study used 2012-13 academic and financial reports from colleges and universities, census data and employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It broke down the impact of each segment of higher education:

N.C. Community College System. Forty percent of the state’s workforce has received training or education at community colleges, bringing an accumulated contribution of $19.6 billion in added state income (the equivalent of 322,000 new jobs).

UNC system. Seventy percent of all undergraduate and graduate degrees in the state come from the 16 public university campuses, generating $27.9 billion of added state income (the equivalent of 426,000 new jobs).

Private colleges and universities. The 36 private colleges generated $14.2 billion in added state income (or 219,590 new jobs).

Hope Williams, president of the N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, said private higher education has been a critical part of North Carolina’s economy for more than 200 years.

She pointed out that North Carolina is a net importer of students for higher education – with more coming to the state to attend college than leaving it.

“Many of those who come to North Carolina from other states choose to stay in North Carolina after graduation and are great contributors to our economy,” Williams said.

Representatives of the business community applauded the findings. Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said workforce preparation is the most important factor in today’s marketplace.

“You cannot overestimate the importance of higher education to our economic vitality,” Schmitt said.

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