LOVELAND — Public higher education in Northern Colorado results in a $2.4 billion annual impact on the economies of Larimer and Weld counties, according to a new economic-impact study unveiled Tuesday morning.
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The presidents of the four public colleges in Northern Colorado unwrapped the study, which was commissioned from a company called Emsi, a Moscow, Idaho-based firm that has conducted about 30 similar studies around the country so far this year. The colleges and universities that collaborated on the study were Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, Aims Community College and Front Range Community College. The study focused on spending and activity in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Economic impact falls into several major categories, according to the report presentation.
- Operations spending — The annual day-to-day operational spending of the four colleges totals $676.8 million in non-research payroll and purchases of supplies, professional services and other routine expenditures.
- Research — The impact of research activities — salaries, supply purchases, purchase of equipment — resulted in $172.7 million of impact, not counting the long-term impact of 147 new U.S. patents, 43 licenses and 129 invention disclosures.
- Construction — Construction spending in the target year was $78.9 million.
- Startups — The one-year impact of startup companies fostered by university research resulted in a $35.8 million impact.
- Student spending — Students attracted to the region because of the colleges and those who stayed in the region for educational purposes resulted in increased spending of $159.6 million. This number is net of the opportunity cost — spending from jobs and wages not earned because the students were in class instead of working.
- Alumni impact — The study quantified the one-year annual economic impact of alumni from the past 30 years working in the region. This totaled $1.3 billion. Working alumni from years prior to the 30 considered in the study were not factored into this number.
The $2.4 billion total impact equals about 9.6 percent of the Gross Regional Product for the two counties. That number would support 39,677 jobs, according to the study report.
University presidents touted the collaborative nature of the study. Leah Bornstein, president of Aims Community College, said “this is an example of the many partnerships that we have together. Together we can tell our story in a much stronger way.”
Front Range Community College president Andrew Dorcey looked beyond the numbers. “There’s an enrichment in the lives of people, and that’s important to me,” he said.
CSU president Tony Frank continued that thought with a statistic from his institution. “One of every four students (at CSU) is the first to go to college. I’m proud of that; we’re changing the trajectory of families.”
In response to a question about the impact of student debt, Frank said of the $1.2 trillion in student debt nationwide, most is owed by people who are among the highest income earners in the country. Most of the defaults, he said, occur among students who have attended only a single semester of college and have $5,000 or less in debt.
UNC president Kay Norton concluded her remarks by posing the question of whether public university education is a private benefit for students who then earn higher incomes, or a public good. “Obviously it’s both,” she said.