By David C. Joyce, Dan G. Lunsford, Paul J. Maurer, and Steven L. Solnik
In February, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to publish a comprehensive study evaluating the economic impact of all its institutions of higher learning on the state economy. The study provided hard numbers that reinforce a concept that many have known was true all along: higher education is a key economic driver in North Carolina. This in-depth research demonstrates that businesses rely on the state’s educational institutions to produce the skilled employees who drive their innovation and entrepreneurship; students realize substantial benefits from higher lifetime earnings; and local communities gain numerous financial savings and benefits.
The study, conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International, was commissioned by the three sectors of higher education in the state: the public university system, the independent higher education sector and the community college system. Its purpose was to compile comprehensive data for North Carolina higher education. In total, the three sectors created $63.5 billion in added economic value to the state during fiscal year 2012-13, according to the EMSI study.
Previous coverage in the Citizen-Times has focused on the contributions of public institutions (“WNC public colleges a $2 billion shot for economy,” Feb. 20, 2015). We wish to underscore the unique and crucial contributions that private institutions play in the economic well-being of the state.
The 36 institutions of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) added $14.2 billion to the economy of North Carolina in the 2012-13 fiscal year, or nearly 25 percent of the total impact of all the state’s colleges and universities. Taken together, the member institutions of NCICU are the largest private employer in the state. It also should be noted that although some of our students receive need-based state grants, private colleges and universities offer a significant economic benefit without directly receiving state financial support.
Here in Western North Carolina, our four regional private institutions — Brevard College, Mars Hill University, Montreat College and Warren Wilson College — generated a total of $197.8 million in added economic benefit to the state and regional economy.
Together, we employ 1,096 Western North Carolinians in full- and part-time jobs, and we expend $64.5 million annually in total operations, including payroll and benefits for our employees. The economic contributions of our four colleges, according to the study, are equivalent to 4332 new jobs for the state. In the context of the towns in which we are located, we are particularly significant: Mars Hill University is the second-largest employer in Madison County and Brevard College is the third-largest private employer in Transylvania County. Warren Wilson College and Montreat College rank in the top 15 largest employers in the Swannanoa Valley, both essential contributors to the economy of Buncombe County.
There are many students who desire what our unique institutions offer — a small-campus, liberal arts atmosphere, often with religious foundations — and they find a welcoming niche on one of our four campuses. In our absence, in fact, many students would look outside the state for what we offer — or forego the experience of higher education altogether.
Our four institutions bring students from all over the world who contribute to the WNC economy during their student years. A significant percentage of our students come from out-of-state. In student spending alone, our four institutions contribute almost $7.5 million to the state economy. Our out-of-state student numbers are an important factor in this calculation because money that students would have spent in their home states or countries is being spent here in Western North Carolina.
In addition, many alumni remain in the state after graduation, contributing to the state economy long after they leave our institutions. According to the study, the annual economic input to the state by alumni of Brevard, Mars Hill, Montreat, and Warren Wilson combined is $120.4 million.
Each piece of the state’s higher education puzzle is important, and each sector — private and two- and four-year public — offers unique economic and social value to North Carolina and its residents. In Western North Carolina, the private institutions of Brevard College, Mars Hill University, Montreat College and Warren Wilson College continue to build on our historic contributions to this part of the state.
Today, we remain deeply committed to the development and growth of our state and, especially, our western region, as we make a significant impact on the area’s educational, economic, and cultural well-being and advancement. We are pleased that the recent study by Economic Modeling Specialists International affirms that contribution definitively.
David C. Joyce is president, Brevard College; Dan G. Lunsford is president, Mars Hill University; Paul J. Maurer is president, Montreat College; Steven L. Solnik is president, Warren Wilson College.