The impact of America’s colleges and universities extends far beyond their campus boundaries. In addition to educating graduates who invest in and contribute to their communities, colleges and universities are anchor institutions in their cities, towns, and regions, contributing to the vibrancy and stability of their communities in ways big and small.
Here are a few things trustees—as advocates for higher education—should know:
Colleges and universities drive local economies. With 20 million enrolled students, almost four million employees, and $1 trillion in annual economic activity, U.S. colleges and universities make a significant contribution to America’s economy. The funds these institutions infuse into their communities more than compensate for federal, state, and local investment in the sector, which totals $160 billion.
Colleges and universities serve as important employers in cities, regions, and states. Universities and university hospitals are the largest private employers in 13 states. Nationwide, colleges and universities are major employers within their cities and throughout their regions. Higher education institutions also make important contributions by incubating new businesses and sustaining local businesses with a skilled workforce.
For example, in Ithaca, New York—home to Cornell University—more than eighty local companies have direct ties to the university, and many of them were started by Cornell faculty or students. Similarly, faculty and students at Carnegie Mellon University started 173 new companies between 2011 and 2016. Collectively, these companies have raised more than $1 billion in investments, and about 74% of those funds remained in Pennsylvania and contribute to the regional economy.
When talking with others about the value of higher education, it is easy to focus on the individual benefits. However, colleges and universities make positive contributions to the communities in which they are located—something that should be shared widely in conversations within your own communities.