Measuring the economic impact of mission-based higher education
- Fresno Pacific University President Joseph Jones writes in an editorial for the Fresno Bee about the value of mission-based colleges and universities to the economic well-being of their communities. Citing two economic impact studies of Christian colleges and universities nationwide and California's private institutions, Jones says that schools with specialized missions create jobs, opportunity and identity for their geographic regions.
- According to Jones, Christian schools generate about $60 billion in economic impact, and California's independent colleges create about $26 billion for the state annually. At Fresno Pacific, 49% of students are first-generation college attendees, more than half are from households earning $40,000 or less, but only about 4.4% of those graduates default on student loan repayment while graduating at comparable rates as students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
- "The return on investment in institutions like Fresno Pacific is not just realized in dollars and cents," Jones writes. "Our success is defined by the ways in which we produce effective graduates."
Communicating economic impact is a major factor in sharing the value of higher education in larger industrial, political and social contexts, and this is a particularly vital foundation for explaining continuing relevance for religious, single-gendered and historically black, Hispanic-serving, tribal and other minority-serving colleges which are fighting for support and against growing narratives about irrelevance or inferiority to larger institutional brands. Conversations about money, volunteerism, voting power and job creation that start on campuses and flow out into the local communities help to attract increased appropriations and donor support; and colleges would do well to transform that story into enrollment management functions for high school graduates and non-traditional or adult learners.
Impact means different things to different groups; while most students would appreciate that their tuition helps to empower the community around the campus, they are more concerned with how their personal career and earnings prospects are impacted. In this case, schools may also want to consider creating earnings surveys or reports for each of their colleges, industries attracting the most graduates, advanced degree program entry metrics and alumni giving rates of graduates within the first one, five, ten and 20 years of leaving the institution. These kind of reports show if the college makes good on the promise of career preparation and placement, if they can live comfortably in their chosen career, and the level of satisfaction graduates had with the school which induced them to give back.