By Matt Watson
In a state that is 48th in the nation in per-student public spending on higher education, Colorado universities punch well above their weight when it comes to their contributions to the local and state economies, a new analysis commissioned by Metropolitan State University of Denver shows.
MSU Denver alone contributes hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year, an impact that is especially important to communities near the University’s downtown campus, said Kishore Kulkarni, Ph.D., a professor of economics at MSU Denver.
“MSU Denver sitting in downtown Denver clearly has an advantage in terms of economic impact, not only graduating people who are already working there but graduating people who immediately get a job in the downtown area also,” he said.
Beyond its impact on the local job market — the majority of the University’s 95,000 alumni live within 25 miles of campus — MSU Denver last year turned its $225 million budget ($58.3 million of which comes from the state) into a $703.4 million economic impact on local and statewide economies through expenditures on operations, capital projects, wages, the spending of students off-campus and the spending of campus visitors, according to the study, conducted by Parker Philips Inc.
INFOGRAPHIC: MSU Denver's outsized impact on Colorado's economy
The University, its suppliers and related constituencies contributed an estimated $35.5 million in tax revenue in fiscal 2019 — meaning an amount equal to about 60% of the state funding for MSU Denver goes right back to local and state tax bases.
Add to that an estimated $2.4 million in charitable donations and 372,000 hours of volunteering from MSU Denver faculty, staff and students, and you have a public university providing exponential return on investment for its neighborhood, city and state, said MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D.
“These numbers are a testament to what so many Coloradans already know — that an investment in MSU Denver is an investment in the long-term economic success of our state and the vibrancy of our diverse communities,” Davidson said.
The MSU Denver study is part of a growing body of evidence showing how anchor institutions — universities, medical centers and other large organizations with deep roots in their communities — are important economic engines in the communities they serve.
Tony Sorrentino, an assistant vice president at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said the geography of an urban university amplifies its impact, like an optimally located cog in a well-oiled machine. Like MSU Denver, Penn is a member of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities.
“The economy is a machine with gears turning, and we put Penn in the middle — it’s not the biggest gear, but it’s centrally located,” he said. “When it turns, lots of other gears get caught up in our threads and then they turn too.”
Like Penn, MSU Denver’s location and flow of high-quality graduates also help attract other employers to Denver, beyond the University’s already-broad impact on Colorado, said Sam Bailey, vice president of economic development for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
“Sitting across the street from what has been ranked the No. 1 economy for three years in a row by U.S. News & World Report, MSU Denver is fueling the economic might of a thriving economy,” he said.
Bailey likes that MSU Denver focuses on staying adaptable and relevant to a dynamic city, creating hubs for specific industries such as advanced manufacturing. The EDC, an affiliate of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, points to MSU Denver when it recruits corporations to come to the city.
“When clients of the Metro Denver EDC come to our region to consider relocating or expanding their business, having MSU Denver and other university partners at the table is a competitive advantage,” Bailey said.
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