Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher (center) discusses the economic impact of public institutions of higher education on the region with University of North Carolina Asheville Chancellor Mary Grant (left) and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College President Dennis King (right).


Study concludes that WCU contributes $900 million to state economy


The state of North Carolina reaped an economic benefit from the existence of Western Carolina University to the tune of $901.8 million in 2012-13 through the combined impact of payroll, operational, construction and research expenditures by the university and the spending habits of its students, visitors and alumni. Furthermore, the statewide income generated by WCU and its constituencies was equivalent to creating 15,381 new jobs that fiscal year.

Those are among the findings of a comprehensive study conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International examining the impact of higher education on North Carolina. The EMSI study investigated the combined impact of the University of North Carolina system, North Carolina Community College system and private institutions, and also assessed the impact of individual UNC campuses, private colleges and community colleges on their local economies.

The bulk of WCU’s economic impact – $511.3 million – was felt in the state’s 10 westernmost counties of Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania. Looking at the regional picture, that economic impact was equivalent to creating 10,475 new jobs in 2012-13.

Leaders from WCU, UNC Asheville and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College gathered in February at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss the impacts of their respective institutions – and of Blue Ridge, Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges – on the communities that they serve.

“It has been no secret that Western Carolina University and our UNC system, community college and private institution partners in higher education are engines of economic and community development for the communities and regions we serve,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said. “It is heartening to read the results of this study, which clearly demonstrates the incredible value that WCU and other institutions bring to the state and to the region. I trust that elected officials, taxpayers, students, parents, alumni, donors and the business community will appreciate the exceptional return on investment our state and region receive when they invest in higher education, whether through appropriations, tax dollars, tuition and fees, or charitable contributions.”

The study also calculated the return on investment in WCU for students, society and taxpayers, finding that for every dollar students invest in their educations, they will receive $2.90 in higher future income. From a statewide societal perspective, for each dollar that society spent on education at WCU in the year analyzed, North Carolina will receive a cumulative value of $10.60 in benefits such as savings related to reduced crime, lower unemployment and increased health and well-being across the state.

For every dollar invested by state and local taxpayers to support the operations of WCU in the 2012-13 fiscal year, those taxpayers gained $5.40 in added tax revenues collected and public sector savings, the EMSI researchers said. Specifically, taxpayers contributed $85 million toward WCU that year, while the added tax revenue stemming from students’ higher lifetime incomes and increased output of businesses totaled $358.6 million, with another $103.6 million in benefits because of reduced demand for government-funded services, the study revealed.

“I am a proud product of North Carolina’s public higher education system, as are my wife and my children, so I know first-hand of the value that the UNC system and the North Carolina Community College system bring to the people of North Carolina,” said N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca ’80. “From laid-off factory workers seeking retraining at their local community colleges so they can re-enter the workforce of the 21st century to first-generation college students finding a welcoming environment at our regional universities, the people of our communities benefit tremendously from public higher education.”  A printable report is available at wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/15-123-Economic-Impact-Report-Western-Version.pdf.