Banking & Finance, Economic Development, and Higher Education

Christian colleges have $60B economic impact

Grand Rapids-based Calvin College, Cornerstone University, Kuyper College are among 142 schools in the study.

June 8, 2018
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A study revealed a network of 142 Christian colleges and universities, including three in Grand Rapids, have an annual economic impact of $60 billion.

Commissioned by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the study calculated the national economic impact of the collective 445,000 students, 72,000 faculty and staff, and 3.5 million alumni.

Three of the institutions included in the network are Grand Rapids-based Calvin College, Cornerstone University and Kuyper College.

Cornerstone has about 300 employees and 1,300 undergraduate students, said Bob Sack, Cornerstone vice president for university advancement.

He said about half of those students come from outside West Michigan, and the area sees a benefit to all those people living and spending in the area.

“It just adds to the core fabric of the economic community,” Sack said.

This is the first study of this kind the CCCU has commissioned.

Shirley Hoogstra, CCCU president, said she believes higher education is “being scrutinized more and more by the public,” and the organization wanted to show the “important contribution” colleges and universities are making.

Key findings of the report include:

  • For every $1 in federal grant money a student receives, CCCU institutions provide $5 in aid to that student through grants and scholarships.

  • The 6.3 percent student loan default rate for graduates from CCCU institutions is nearly half the national average of 11.5 percent.

  • Even though they are tax exempt, CCCU institutions still generate $9.7 billion in federal tax revenue each year. For every $1 in federal grant money a student receives, CCCU institutions generate more than $20 in federal tax revenue.

  • One in three CCCU students is a first-generation college student.

  • Fifty percent of CCCU students come from families that make less than $50,000 per year.

  • While approximately one in four college students across the country volunteer, more than one in three CCCU students participate in community service while enrolled. CCCU students perform an estimated 5.4 million community service hours per year.

Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin College, said the results prove what he already knew to be true.

Hoogstra agreed. She said she is not surprised by the students’ low default rate, which she believes can be attributed in part to the nature of the teachings in the Christian institutions.

“We make a claim that we mold character,” she said. “A person with good character pays their bills.”

She added while many of the graduates choose careers in business and finance, 12 percent of them work in human services fields.

“It really closes the loop on the story that it’s not how much you make — it’s your commitment to paying,” she said.

Sack said a “rigorous” academic curriculum helps students find employment after college, and Cornerstone assists students in other ways, as well, all of which contribute toward students being able to pay their loans.

He said Cornerstone works closely with students to maximize their financial aid and scholarships to make their educations most affordable.

“Beyond that, we work closely with them from the moment they get on campus to begin to establish an understanding of where their vocational gifts are and where they’re heading, from a career perspective,” Sack said.

With the high number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families, Hoogstra said CCCU colleges often package tuition in a way that is “affordable,” which she hopes appeals to legislators who want to see students have the opportunity to be college-educated.

Hoogstra said she wants people to understand the high return rate that comes from investing in students.

“If people understood that student loans actually generate federal tax revenue because you’re graduating people with good-earning jobs, they might be more supportive of increases in student loans,” Hoogstra said.

Cornerstone is an example of a university with high rates of volunteering, which is typical for CCCU schools, according to the study. Volunteering is part of the Cornerstone curriculum, Sack said, which helps teach fulfillment of the “virtue of service.”

Besides the economic benefits, Hoogstra said she believes CCCU schools “create people with a devoted heart, a creative mind and a purposeful soul.”

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