Columbus State University's Economic Impact Nearly $236 Million

ATLANTA — A new report states that the combined economic impact of the University System of Georgia’s 35 institutions on their host communities reached $13.2 billion in fiscal year 2011.

In the Chattahoochee Valley, the report shows Columbus State University’s economic impact on the region is almost $236 million, up from $226.8 in fiscal year 2010.

The Columbus increase reflects the system as a whole, which has also seen a 5 percent impact increase than the $12.6 billion reported for fiscal 2010.

The 2011 fiscal year study found that Georgia’s public university system generated nearly 132,000 jobs, or more than 3 percent of all the nonfarm jobs that exist in Georgia. The bottom line is that one job out of every 29 in the Georgia is due to the university system.

In Columbus, the report shows 2,657 local jobs can be attributed to Columbus State, with most of those (1,242) because of student spending. The study says 1,700 jobs exist off campus because of spending by Columbus State and its students.

While common wisdom might conclude that increased spending and jobs were the result of institutional actions, the study found just the opposite. Students accounted for the increased spending that generated more jobs off campus.

“Comparisons of the FY 2011 estimates to those for recent years show that our public college and universities really proved their economic worth during tough economic times” said Jeffrey M. Humphreys, study author and director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth in the Terry College of Business.

The Selig center analyzed financial and enrollment data for July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011 to estimate the economic impact that each of Georgia’s 35 public colleges and universities has on the economy of the community where it’s located. The Selig center began producing the annual economic impact report in 1999.

Ten years ago, Columbus State’s economic impact on the region it serves was listed at $146.2 million. A decade later, the university has a downtown campus, 2,000 more students and 125 more faculty. The university now spends in its community $192.6 million, which breaks down in three categories: $54 million in personal services, $41.8 million in operating expenses, and $96.7 million in student spending.

“It’s clear the economic impact on this community by the university and our students is remarkable,” said Columbus State University President Tim Mescon. “It’s great to have this kind of data to show the university’s value here, but we should not lose sight of the impact that’s also made by our students — and our faculty and staff — in other ways, such as cultural enrichment, community volunteerism and civic engagement.”

Most of the USG’s $13.2 billion economic impact consists of spending by its colleges and universities for salaries and fringe benefits, operating supplies and expenses, and other budgeted expenditures, as well as spending by the students who attended the institutions. Initial spending by USG institutions and students equaled $9.5 billion, or 72 percent of the total output impact.

The remaining $3.7 billion (28 percent) of the output impact was created by respending — the multiplier effect of the dollars that are spent again in the region. For every dollar of initial spending by a university system institution, research found that, on average, an additional 39 cents was generated for the local economy.

The study shows that between FY 2007 and FY 2011, total spending by all 35 institutions and their students rose by 30 percent, and the number of jobs that owe their existence to that spending rose by 24 percent — from 106,267 jobs to 131,990 jobs.

“That job growth is quite impressive given that the state’s total employment declined by 7 percent during this period,” said Humphreys. “Without exception, each college or university is an economic linchpin of its host community.”

That’s mostly due to rising demand for higher education even when overall economic conditions deteriorate, Humphreys said. The increase in spending by a growing number of enrolled students rather than higher spending by the institutions accounted for most of the job growth. The number of on-campus jobs barely increased while the number of off-campus jobs that exist due to institution-related spending rose by 41 percent.

One striking finding is that university — or college-related spending — creates far more jobs off campus than it does on campus. On average, for each job that exists on campus two off-campus jobs exist because of university-related spending. Almost all of the off-campus jobs are in private sector businesses.

“That’s really not too surprising,” said Humphreys. “After all, the private sector businesses operating in the communities that are home to USG institutions are by far the biggest recipients of institution-related spending.”

The full economic impact study can be viewed online at http://www.usg.edu/economic_development/documents/PS-USGImpact2011.pdf