SUNY report calls for schools to be 'economic engines'

A new report out from The State University of New York [PDF] aims to quantify SUNY's role in the state's economy.

Today the statewide higher-ed system issued a 128-page report called "How SUNY Matters," which estimates its total economic impact in New York at nearly $20 billion.

The report also claims that SUNY provides 173,000 jobs, and $460 million in tax revenue for the state.

SUNY Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, says the report aims to find solutions to issues like how  the network of schools can help New York find more economic drivers.

"The report answers that by growing lots of entrepreneurs on our campuses, setting them free to be  as innovative as possible," says Zimpher.

Western New York's economic share: 18%

University at Buffalo's Regional Institute co-authored the study, which says the western New York region (five counties) sees a $3.7 billion economic boost from the university system.

More than 78,000 students attend a SUNY school in western New York. And an additional 16,000 are employed as faculty and staff.

"When you quantify it … that's an awfully large number in terms of the impact on an economy. And that's driven, in part, by spending by campuses, primarily by employee wages and benefits. But it's also driven the spending of campuses by goods and services," says Kate Foster, with UB's Regional Institute and a co-author of the report. "All of those things drive a circulation of dollars in an economy."

The numbers should resonate in the Buffalo area, where the economy has been in transition for decades, Foster says.

"People can begin to think of higher education as an industry, as bringing in raw material, of creating people who then become entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. People will begin to say we've created a time when it's really not steel and rail anymore, it's these information-based kinds of enterprises," Foster says.

Of the eight SUNY schools lumped in the WNY column, UB comprises most of SUNY's regional impact. Second place goes to Fredonia.

UB will now likely point to the report's findings to justify its quest for more money and more autonomy from the state now that its own plan, UB 2020, which was based on the same principles behind this latest report, has been downsized.

The study lends credibility to the idea UB is one of the region's best returns on the investment of public money, Foster says. 

Questions of conflicted interests

The report was co-authored by two organizations operating on SUNY campuses (University of Albany's Rockefeller Institute of Government, and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute).

And the study was commissioned by SUNY's own Chancellor (Zimpher), who has already started to use its facts and figures to make the case for SUNY to receive a greater share of the state's economic development dollars. 

Zimpher told reporters that SUNY is open to critiques of its methodology.

In fact, SUNY will stage a discussion of the report's findings and methodology at a conference on the role of universities as economic drivers on September 26th  and 27th in Buffalo.