“Follow the dollar” has long been the catchphrase of financial sleuths. Trying to figure out the “bang for the buck” is as old as, well, money itself. Bloomsburg University graduates and students alike enthusiastically describe the university’s lasting impact on their lives. But what is the university’s impact in dollars and cents?
The top-line number is impressive. In 2012-13, Bloomsburg University added more than $350 million to the economy of Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to a study by Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International. Just 12 percent of that $350 million — $43 million — came from taxpayer support for the university’s operations.
But that number, large as it is, doesn’t begin to capture the economic benefit Bloomsburg University’s students and alumni bring to the local community, to Pennsylvania as a whole and to society in general.
“When we talk about economic impact, we talk about direct and indirect,” says Mehdi Haririan, who chairs BU’s economics department. “When we do a study, we look at four major areas: the demographic, economic, social and political impact.”
Haririan says that means not only quantifying the direct spending of the university, its students and visitors, but also looking at the ongoing impact of the university’s graduates.
“For instance, there’s a social impact,” Haririan says. “We see that people who are better educated make healthier life choices and are less likely to commit crimes, so the crime rate goes down. Students are also more likely to be politically active and get involved in the community.”
Time on campus
More than half of Bloomsburg’s approximately 10,000 students are from outside Northeastern Pennsylvania and, on average, they spend $80.3 million during their years as university students. In 2012-13 alone, that spending came to more than $30 million for groceries, rent, transportation and other living expenses — money that directly benefited the local region.
BU’s students are active in the community as well as on campus, providing an average of 81,000 hours of volunteer service each year. Students assist local nonprofits in areas ranging from website design to marketing plans and tackle large service projects that benefit the town itself. One such project is The Big Event, which this year drew more than 2,200 students who helped with chores such as raking, painting and spring cleaning, in spite of a fresh coating of snow.
Ask any organization helped by BU’s students and you’ll hear the assistance is invaluable. In fiscal terms, that labor equals $18.44 an hour, counting the taxes, insurance and other costs associated with full-time workers. Put another way, that’s $1.5 million worth of volunteer help the community receives annually.
In an age where states are trying to keep their best and brightest, Bloomsburg graduates tend to make Pennsylvania their home. Thirty-six percent of alumni stay in the region for at least a year, providing $175 million in added income to the local economy. Seventy-four percent put down permanent roots. And their BU degrees lead to employment opportunities equaling $3.40 in higher wages for every $1 spent on tuition and other college-related expenses.
“If Bloomsburg University did not exist, not only would people not come to the region, but a lot of people would move out of state to pursue opportunities,” Haririan says. “The university creates jobs and preserves jobs. That is one of the functions of higher education.”
Higher education also leads to better life choices. Statistically, college graduates are less likely to incur medical costs associated with smoking, alcoholism, obesity, drug abuse and mental disorders. For BU students enrolled in 2012-13, Pennsylvania will realize a savings of $153.6 million for unneeded services related to medical care, unemployment benefits and the criminal justice system. Over the working lives of those same students, Pennsylvania can expect to receive $43.4 million in higher tax receipts.
Added together, for every $1 in public money used to support Bloomsburg, taxpayers see a 3.2
percent return on the investment.
Husky power, quantified. •
Read the full report at bloomu.edu/economic-impact.
Jack Sherzer is a professional writer and principal partner with Message Prose, a communications and public relations firm in Harrisburg.
(Editor’s note: Economic Modeling Specialists International’s conservative approach to
economic impact studies considers only the effects of students who moved to the area to
pursue an education. A study commissioned by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher
Education and released in late spring shows Bloomsburg and sister institutions have an
even larger impact when the spending of all students is tallied.)