Op-ed: How Oregon's private colleges lay the groundwork for the state's future successes

Op-ed: How Oregon's private colleges lay the groundwork for the state's future successes Main Photo

28 Jun 2023

This op-ed, written by Greater Portland Inc CEO Monique Claiborne, appeared in the Portland Business Journal.

Moniqueclaiborne_750xx2000 1125-0-104

In the realm of economic development, it is vital that we recognize and harness the immense influence that academic institutions wield over the prosperity of states and regions.

Oregon's private, nonprofit colleges and universities, in particular, have emerged as powerful drivers of economic growth, laying the foundation for a thriving future. As the CEO of Greater Portland Inc, I see the pivotal role that these institutions play in shaping our local economy, attracting and retaining talent, and creating a positive net impact on the state economy.

The economic impact of academic institutions cannot be understated. In April, the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities released its Economic Impact Report. The study revealed that the 12-member institutions of The Alliance contributed a staggering $3.5 billion annually to Oregon's economy in fiscal year 2020-21.

This figure serves as a testament to the transformative power of private, nonprofit higher education, which ripples throughout our state, invigorating industries, and creating a wealth of opportunities for individuals and businesses alike.

One of the critical components fueling this economic force is the substantial role that reputation plays in attracting and retaining students. Academic institutions with strong reputations become magnets for talented individuals seeking a world-class education. Students are drawn to the prestigious faculty, cutting-edge research, and diverse environments both on and off campus that these institutions offer.

And for every dollar students invest in private, nonprofit higher education at The Alliance member institutions, they receive a cumulative value of $3.50 in higher future earnings. This is an astounding average annual internal rate of return of 12.5%.

Seven out of 12 Alliance member institutions estimated that 45,461 out-of-state visitors attended events hosted by them in FY 2020-21, with gross spending totaling $30.5 million. The Alliance member institutions generate a significant flow of spending in our state’s economy. The effects of this spending are captured by operations, visitors, and students. The visitor spending impact alone from Oregon’s private colleges and universities approximate to $26 million in income for the state economy, which is equivalent to supporting nearly 400 jobs.

Moreover, every year, a new cohort of the institutions’ former students adds to the stock of human capital to the region. The influx of talent injects vitality into our local economy and industry sectors. During FY 2020-21, the Alliance member institutions supported more than 43,000 jobs.

And the academic prowess of the Alliance’s institutions is not contained to solely jobs. These institutions are home to some of the state’s most cutting-edge research, that are incubators for new businesses providing living wages to families.

The positive return on investment of education echoes across our economy, strengthening our region’s competitive sectors that rely on highly skilled professionals. In addition, the reduced demand for government-funded services in Oregon will add another $156.4 million in benefits to taxpayers. This amounts to $929.4 million in present value benefits to Oregon taxpayers with limited state investment.

With an estimated 66% of students remaining in Oregon after finishing their time at the Alliance member institutions, companies are drawn to our region because of the robust talent pool, and the presence of reputable academic institutions, many found with the Alliance. This, in turn, attracts businesses seeking to tap into a skilled workforce, leading to a cycle of economic development and prosperity.

The influence of the Alliance member institutions on our economy goes beyond dollars and cents. I have witnessed firsthand, the lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and civically engaged individuals who are committed to making a positive impact on society.

The Alliance member institutions’ effect on the economy, state, and region cannot be overstated. Oregon's private, nonprofit colleges and universities are powerhouses of economic growth, fueling innovation, and attracting students and companies alike. They support the state’s economy, communities, students, and taxpayers through job creation, increased earnings, and public sector savings.

As we recognize the transformative economic impact of education, let us continue to strengthen partnerships between industry and academia to further align with the evolving needs of economic development. By doing so, we will forge a path towards a prosperous and inclusive future for all Oregonians.