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The education engine

A little more than a year ago, State University of New York chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced an ambitious strategic plan that called for SUNY to play a key role in the state’s economy. "In a knowledge economy," she declared, "institutions of higher education can-and must-be pivotal in generating growth and revitalizing communities."
 
Just how important SUNY already is to New York’s economy was underscored by the release Wednesday of a report on the 64-campus university system. The study, commissioned by the chancellor, calculates the annual economic impact in the state at nearly $20 billion.
 
SUNY’s economic activity supported 173,000 jobs statewide and generated $460 million in state and local taxes in 2008-09, the researchers found. The system each year spends nearly $7 billion on employee wages and benefits and $4.4 billion more on purchasing. In addition, SUNY students spend $2.3 billion on off-campus expenses such as housing and food.
 
In the Finger Lakes region, SUNY has more than 48,000 students, 5,600 employees and an estimated economic output of $1.1 billion.
 
This is not the first study to document the big impact higher education has on New York’s economy. Last fall, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report showing that New York’s colleges and universities generated more than $62 billion in economic activity in 2009.
 
New York’s higher-education sector ranks among the top three in the nation. And it’s growing: Colleges and universities statewide added nearly 32,500 jobs from 2001 to 2009-mostly in private institutions.
 
Importantly, as Mr. DiNapoli noted, "higher education has been one of the most resilient sectors of the economy during (the) downturn."
 
New York clearly would be in much worse shape economically without its colleges and universities. Yet more can–and should–be done to leverage this asset. Dr. Zimpher’s strategic plan made this point directly, stressing the importance of "translating knowledge into measurable benefits (by cultivating) entrepreneurial thinking across our entire learning landscape."

This mind-set, coupled with an increasing number of partnerships with the business community, would make New York’s higher education sector an even more powerful economic engine.

6/2/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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