UConn’s $3.4 billion impact only tells part of the story

A commissioned study of UConn economic impact on the state of Connecticut has shown that the university had a $3.4 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2014. TrippUmbach’s study provides for an ostensibly positive vision of the university’s economic contribution to the local economy.

While the economic study does in fact reveal that the Storrs and regional campuses add jobs and revenue producers to the state, a critical statistic has been omitted. While the impact of a public university on their state is crucial in promoting state spending for the university and public support, the average income of graduates and percentage of alumni who achieved gainful employment is a stronger metric for UConn’s performance. 

Though commissioning a study that provides benefits for the commissioning party, it is generally considered a conflict of interest, this report appears to be relatively sound. The problem is not with what the study revealed. Focusing on the numerous jobs the UConn system provides – around 24,000 – as well as the $11.80 of gain for every $1 the state invests projects an image of a positive return on investment for state taxpayers.

The problem is in UConn’s presentation of the study, which highlights the $3.4 billion number while avoiding promotion of the average graduate salary.

According to PayScale, UConn ranks 161 in college graduate salaries, with an early-career – five or fewer years after graduation – salary of $51,900. After 10 or more years from the date of graduation, that number rises to $89,100. Considering the Cenus Bureau’s estimation of an average household income of $53,046, it is clear that UConn is paying off for alumni. However, a ranking of 161 still reveals that there is a sharp discrepancy between Connecticut’s economic benefits from UConn, and the average student’s benefit.

There are numerous metrics that can be used in a study of economic impact and the cost-benefit analysis of a college education. UConn clearly has a positive impact on Connecticut’s economy. Though using the $3.4 billion impact on posters and banners throughout campus provides a sense of progress and earnings, the number most pertinent to UConn students is the average returns on investment, and more importantly, the average salary of graduates.

The university should promote, along with the state, the positive impact of a leading public university on the state economy. However, the administration should be transparent with students and reveal all aspects of the data, especially those that pertain to the chief motivation attend university today – future financial security.