Colleges' impact on area tops $1 billion

Public schools plan to pitch in more to economy

The two public universities in Augusta have a combined economic impact of $1 billion in the community, according to a new study from the University System of Georgia.

Between June 2009 and July 2010, Augusta State University had an impact of more than $187 million and Georgia Health Sciences University made an $832 million impression.

Those schools are part of the 35 institutions within the University System that had an overall impact of $12.6 billion in fiscal year 2010, according to the study conducted by The Selig Center for Economic Growth, part of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.

The study calculated the impacts by looking at spending by the institutions for salaries and fringe benefits, operating supplies and expenses; spending by students; and spending by the institutions on construction.

It found that because of that spending, ASU creates about 2,100 jobs and GHSU almost 9,400.

"This study demonstrates the significant, positive economic impact that the University System of Georgia has on the state," ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said in a statement. "University System institutions, such as Augusta State, are major economic drivers on their local areas. The tangible impact includes jobs and output; however, higher education is vital to everyone. It is especially vital to this community -- to its prosperity and progress."

Dr. Gretchen B. Caughman, GHSU's provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, said the study no doubt shows the benefits of her institution but also left out some of its best qualities.

Since the Selig Center study examined only the impacts of the higher learning institutions, it didn't take into account GHSU's clinical component of its hospital and clinics.

The school and the hospital are intertwined in efforts and together have an economic impact of $2.1 billion, Caughman said.

"We are a unique animal among the USG (University System of Georgia) and among the nation," Caughman said. "Our clinics represent 67 percent of our budget and therefore ... of our economic impact, so that's a big part that's not accounted for in the model."

The Selig Center study also focused on the impact of institutions within the state, so it didn't take into account the students, patients and others who benefit outside of Augusta, like in Aiken and Edgefield counties.

Still, the study highlighted how just having an institution of higher learning in a community grows its economy and spending base.

It found that on average, every dollar of initial spending generates an additional 38 cents in the economy of the region where the institution is situated.

ASU assistant professor of finance Simon Medcalfe described it as a ripple effect.

"It's just proof of the structure of the economy and the emphasis on education that we have here," Medcalfe said. "When I as a faculty member go and spend money somewhere else in the local economy, that in some way goes and supplements other jobs.

When I go support the mall or local restaurants or go to a GreenJackets game, it helps support other jobs through my spending."

With ASU in the planning process of expanding its campus and student housing to Damascus Road, Medcalfe said, the impact of capital projects will only grow the economy more in the future.

The university conducted its own impact of expansion study, which was released in May, and determined the long-term benefits of growth.

Medcalfe said he found that adding 1,000 students by 2015 would create an additional $130 to $142 million, which is mostly a one-time impact because of new construction.

As the university plans to add 7,000 students by 2035, however, it would have an impact of between $464 million and $466 million.

As for expansion, Caughman said, that is also a priority for GHSU. In addition to building a new dental school, the university plans to grow enrollment by 25 percent in the next eight years.

This growth would mean building more clinics for them to work in and doubling research along with 200 more employees.

"That's why it's so important for us to grow (and) to continue to recruit the best and brightest," Caughman said.

Read the complete study

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