Private colleges' impact on upstate economy rises to $22.8 billion

Dec 26, 2012

Colleges and universities are becoming an even bigger part of upstate New York's economy, according to a new report by a group that represents private institutions in the state.

The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU) says its impact on the state's economy has risen 16.4 percent since 2009 to $63.2 billion worth of activity. About a third of that, $22.8 billion, is in upstate.

Upstate New York is home to 206 two- and four-year public and private colleges. That gives upstate a higher number of colleges per capita than the rest of the country, according to a Cornell University study.

CICU's study does not include the more than 50 publicly operated State University of New York campuses. A 2011 study by SUNY puts its impact at $20 billion annually.

As upstate's manufacturing base has declined, colleges have been relied on more and more to be economic engines.

"We are pretty much anchor tenants within our community," says CICU president Laura Anglin. "And those communities where we have a college or university, which is virtually across the state, are really, we feel, faring better."

The most economic impact is seen in the Finger Lakes region at $4.9 billion. The Finger Lakes is home to schools in Rochester, like the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as Cornell University in Ithaca, a major research institution.

Here's how the upstate regions break down:

  • Western New York: $1.3 billion
  • Finger Lakes: $4.9 billion
  • Central New York: $2.8 billion
  • Southern Tier: $4.7 billion
  • Mohawk Valley: $570.7 million
  • North Country: $593.5 million
  • Capital Region: $3.7 billion

The dollar figures were calculated by combining both direct impacts - like salaries to college employees - and indirect impacts - such as how much students spend at area businesses  and contracts schools sign for companies to run their dining halls and other support services.

In terms of jobs, the report credits private colleges as the direct and indirect reason for employment for 373,800 New Yorkers. Direct hiring at universities in upstate has risen 4 percent since 2009, according to Anglin.

Nearly 1.3 million students enroll in New York's colleges and universities each year. Anglin admits the economic impact of her group of schools could be greater if more of those students stayed in the region after graduation.

"Obviously we want to bring students here, but we critically need to keep our New York students here and bring other students here and keep them here," she says.

Colleges are working to create more internship programs and other efforts to reduce the "brain drain" of young people leaving after college, Anglin says.

The study was done by the Center for Governmental Research based in Rochester.

Here is some more breakdown of the data:

CICU regional economic impact

You can follow reporter Ryan Delaney on Twitter @RyanWRVO