GRCC’s Worth: $977M

September 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Community College is ready to prove its worth to taxpayers by explaining what returns both the students and the community are receiving from investment in the school.

According to a study by CCbenefits Inc., a firm hired by the Association of Community College Trustees to create a model used to measure the impact of community colleges, Grand Rapids Community College has contributed a total of $977.5 million in regional labor and non-labor income to the Kent County economy. The study also shows that students gain a 19 percent rate of return on investments of time and money at the college, earning an additional $188 annually for every credit completed.

The college’s contributions come from the income of the faculty and staff, as well as operating and capital expenditures. The study also included the contributions of students who leave Grand Rapids Community College and join the local work force.

Bob Partridge, executive vice president of business and financial services, said the study should remind the community of the college’s significance to the area. As one of the country’s oldest community colleges, the school has a unique distinction of longevity.

“There’s a lot of history behind these numbers when you look at our graduates,” he said, adding that GRCC is the sixth- or seventh-oldest community college in the country. “Hopefully, they already think we’re a very good educational institution, but also that they realize what economic role we play in the community.”

Partridge said as the college is funded partially on tax dollars, he wants the community to see them as good stewards.

“We want the taxpayers of the area to know that we are being responsible with their dollars,” he said.

Other areas where the college has contributed, according to the study, are reduced medical costs through lower absenteeism from work, reduced smoking and reduced alcohol abuse, as well as reduced incarceration costs and reduced welfare and unemployment.

Though the other community colleges in the state have also had economic impact studies done, Kjell Christophersen, president of CCbenefits, said they are not meant to be compared, because the factors are so different.

Partridge said the study is meant to be more of a statewide marketing tool than a comparison tool.

“Collectively, we think the economic impact is in the billions of dollars,” he said.

Christophersen said the model used to compute the economic impact was created in 2000 and has been used to determine the impact of more than 500 community colleges throughout the nation.

“We built the model, unveiled the model at an ACCT convention back in 2000, and since then the phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he said.

The impact is determined by a blending of data, Christophersen said. Data from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor, and information on students, gender, ethnicity and numbers from the community colleges, as well as community information, is used to take a “snapshot” of the community and determine the impact.

Christophersen said one of the unique aspects of the study is that it considers the graduates who may have attended in years past but are still active in the work force.

“That has value and that’s part of the value that we estimate,” he said.

The study is meant to be shared, Christophersen said.

“What we’re encouraging colleges to do is not to contract to get the study, then have it put on the shelf,” he said.

He said he encourages colleges to translate the results in a way that resonates with taxpayers and students, helping them to understand the worth of the school.

Christophersen said this is useful when colleges are asking for funding and support.

“You have ammunition to take to the taxpayers,” he said. “A lot of colleges take this and translate it into a message that resonates with different stakeholders.”

The cost of the study is $8,000, but Christophersen said that because Grand Rapids Community College was part of a statewide study, the cost was only $7,000.

“We’re pretty confident with the reliability of the model,” Partridge said.

The model is not only used in the state, but in determining the economic impact of community colleges throughout the country, each using the region’s own data.

“It’s really pertinent to this area, the findings that they come out with,” Partridge said.    

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