Private colleges help fuel economic growth

07/29/2014 12:00 AM

07/28/2014 6:40 PM

Over the past four years, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature have aggressively pursued an economic policy aimed at accelerating growth in jobs and income. There is a heated political debate around their results.

So in this election season, each candidate has almost certainly been asked an important question: If elected, how far would you go and how much would you spend in order to strengthen Kansas’ economy and create more high-paying jobs for Kansans?

The funny thing is that the answers will almost universally focus on the importance of attracting new companies to Kansas and growing those that spring up at home. An unfortunate absence from the dialogue is the enormous economic impact of our institutions of higher education, especially Kansas’ homegrown private colleges.

For those who don’t know which Kansas colleges these might be, they are: Baker, Benedictine, Bethany, Bethel, Central Christian, Donnelly, Friends, Hesston, Kansas Wesleyan, McPherson, Manhattan Christian, MidAmerica Nazarene, Newman, Ottawa, Saint Mary, Southwestern, Sterling and Tabor.

According to a just released study by the Kansas Independent College Association, the private colleges in Kansas generate nearly $981 million in new economic growth for Kansas every year. That economic growth comes from the salaries the colleges pay their faculty and staff, from the goods and services they purchase from local suppliers, from the things their students buy like cheeseburgers and iPads and gasoline, from the visitors who come to Kansas for football games and graduation ceremonies, and from the increased productivity and income of their alumni who live, work and contribute to Kansas communities. All of that activity generates ripples of economic growth throughout Kansas.

To put the impact of Kansas private colleges in context, $981 million is more than the state could expect to earn from hosting the NFL Super Bowl nine times. Or put another way, it is enough to create nearly 22,000 new jobs for Kansans each year.

The reason Kansas private colleges have such a deep impact on the Kansas economy is simple. Collectively they are the seventh-largest private employer based in Kansas. Kansas private colleges are the single largest charitable organization in Kansas, giving away more than $120 million a year in student aid raised from private sources. Collectively, Kansas private colleges enroll more out-of-state students to Kansas than any other Kansas university – and those students, often as not, stay in Kansas after graduation. And the 261,000 visitors the colleges bring to Kansas each year are 87,000 more than the number of tourists who come to Kansas for hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching combined.

Kansas’ private colleges award more than 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in Kansas every year, and most students finish in four years or less. And while Kansas’ private colleges generate $981 million in annual income for Kansas, they do it with minimal state government support. The private colleges of Kansas receive about 1 percent of the money the state spends on higher education.

The message here should be clear to candidates of all political persuasions. Instead of focusing only on policies to attract more companies to Kansas, you can get more “bang for your policy buck” through policies to strengthen some of the most efficient and effective economic engines in Kansas – our private colleges.

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