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September 29, 2003 :: Study Finds Many Benefits from Oklahoma’s Community Colleges

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Higher education and business leaders throughout Oklahoma have always known how vital community colleges are to the state in terms of both the economic and social benefits they produce. But it wasn’t until recently that they actually saw it in black and white.

Earlier this year, the state’s 14 community college districts contracted with CC Benefits Inc., a non-profit educational organization created in collaboration with the Association of Community College Trustees, to gauge their economic and social impact to both their local communities and the state.

What researchers found was that the state’s community colleges not only are major players in moving Oklahoma’s economy and enriching the lives of students, but they also reduce the demands for tax-supported social services.

“We’ve had a pretty good idea that our two-year colleges in Oklahoma play a significant role in raising the quality of life for all Oklahomans, but we hadn’t yet seen it in such a detailed study until now,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser. “This information will be helpful in our colleges’ efforts to produce more graduates and attract the types of industry that will improve our economy.”

Seminole State College President Dr. James W. Utterback, who serves as chair of the Oklahoma Council of Two-Year College Presidents, said the positive report comes at a good time for the state’s economy, particularly in light of recent budget shortfalls.

“We are very proud of the job we are doing at the two-year college level. Each day, we know we have a positive impact on the students we serve. We are helping them gain a better education or improve their skills in order to lead more productive lives,” Utterback said.

The model that CC Benefits used to capture and quantify the economic and social benefits of Oklahoma’s community colleges is built on data collected from individual community colleges nationwide and translates the data into common-sense benefit-cost and investment terms.

Researchers tracked four types of benefits or impacts Oklahoma’s community colleges have on the state, including economic and social benefits, earnings of graduates and the return of the state’s investment in community colleges.

On a statewide perspective, the study reveals that the state’s 14 community colleges are responsible for generating approximately $2.8 billion of all annual earnings in the state economy, which is equal to the earnings of nearly 96,000 jobs. The majority of the earnings – $2.5 billion – comes from past instruction through credit and non-credit hours. The remaining $330.8 million comes from employees’ wages and salaries and other capital expenditures.

The study also shows that students make an additional $3,629 per year in the workforce for every year they attend college full-time, which amounts to approximately $159 million per year for all students combined.

From the taxpayers’ perspective, the authors of the study found that the nearly $181 million state and local government spent on Oklahoma community college districts during the analysis year was a good use of taxpayer money, saying that the “returns far outweigh the costs.” Their findings show that Oklahoma saves more than $38 million a year from college students because they are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol, draw welfare or unemployment benefits or commit crimes.

The authors also examined Oklahoma taxpayers’ return on their investment in community college districts, finding that both a broad and narrow perspective were possible. Under a broad perspective, the study showed that every taxpayer dollar invested in Oklahoma community colleges today returned a cumulative of $17 over the next 37 years. On a narrow perspective, which translates into increased tax collections and actual reductions in state and local expenditures, the study revealed that every local tax dollar invested today returns a cumulative $2.83 over the next 30 years. In other words, the colleges put more money back into the state treasury than they take out.

“This information from CC Benefits clearly shows that our community colleges play a prominent role in the state’s economic development,” said Ike Glass, chairman of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. “They are key to workforce development and Oklahoma’s quality of life.”