Multiplying Impacts: Assessing the economic value of GCC in the region

November 13, 2020

What qualifies as a good investment? How do we know when our time, our focus, our energy, and our tax dollars are having a productive impact?

These are the questions Greenfield Community College sought to answer when they hired  the labor market data company, EMSI, to analyze their economic impact on the region. Since 1962, GCC has been enhancing the workforce, providing local residents with easy access to higher education opportunities, and preparing students for highly-skilled, technical professions. Initiated in May as part of their multi-phase strategic planning process, the study was a way to quantify the significance and efficacy of these efforts across Franklin and Hampshire county.

“GCC and its surrounding businesses, organizations, and community members are part of an ecosystem and our futures are inextricably linked,” explains GCC’s Director of Assessment Marie Breheny. “That is why it is so important that we look at regional data and listen to community voices as we plan for the future together.”

At a recent convening of the Honorary Committee for the college’s strategic plan — one that included local university and business partners, members of the legislature, and other supporters of the College — GCC’s President Yves Salomon-Fernandez unveiled EMSI’s findings, and presented their two-part analysis.

The first part — the Economic Impact Analysis — showed how GCC promotes economic growth in Hampshire and Franklin counties through its direct expenditures and the resulting expenditures of students and regional businesses.

Turns out, the impact is greater than what some would have imagined.

In FY 2018-19, GCC’s day-to-day operations added $24.4 million in income to the Region — money represented by the college’s payroll; money spent by GCC and its employees on things such as gas, groceries, housing, facilities, and supplies; and a downward adjustment to account for local funding the college had received.

That same year, roughly 18% of students came from outside the region. Between these relocated students and the handful of in-region students who would have left the area if not for GCC, student spending generated $3.8 million in added income.

Then, of course, there is the stunning impact of GCC alumni — students who enter the regional workforce each year with new knowledge and skills, resulting in higher earnings, new businesses, and increased productivity for the firms they are employed by.  In FY 2018-19, these alumni generated $50.8 million in added income for the regional economy, bringing GCC’s total added income to the region in FY 2018-19’s up $78.9M — an impact that supported 1,254 regional jobs.

Though the numbers are striking, Trustee Robert Cohn reminds us that “the impact of GCC cannot be measured just by the $79M. As the only college in the county, we play a much bigger role. In many ways, our impact includes the college’s successful and visible leadership — leaders who are the community this college represents.”

“This community has always known that GCC makes a qualitative difference in terms of the intellectual and cultural vibrancy of the region and in terms of economic mobility. This comprehensive independent economic analysis quantifies our impact on Franklin and Hampshire counties” says GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez.

Representative Paul Mark echoes this statement: “GCC faculty and staff are involved in so many organizations across Franklin and Hampshire County — from the Chamber of Commerce to the tourism committee to the hospital.”

The second part of EMSI’s analysis — the Investment Analysis — shows the costs versus benefits for the school’s three primary stakeholders: students, Massachusetts taxpayers, and society.

In FY 2018-19, GCC’s students invested $14.4 million. In return they receive higher earnings: the average GCC associate degree graduate from FY 2018-19 will see annual earnings that are $9,200 higher than a person with a high school diploma or equivalent working in Massachusetts, amounting to cumulative higher future earnings of $62 million. According to FY 2018-19 data, for every dollar students invest in GCC, they will see a cumulative return of $4.30. This equals an average annual return of 21.1% — over double the 30-year average return of the stock market.

Overall, the social benefits of GCC represent a value of $202.4 million, including $199M in added income through students’ increased lifetime earnings and business output, as well as $3.5 million in social savings related to health, crime, and income assistance in Massachusetts.

In FY 2018-19, people in Massachusetts invested $33.9M in GCC, including all the college and student costs. According to the FY 2018-19 data, for every dollar they invest, people in Massachusetts will receive a $6.00 in benefits for as long as GCC’s FY 2018-19 students remain employed in the state.

“There is an extraordinary return on investment with education and yet, GCC’s numbers expand on this ROI many times over,” says Massachusetts Senator Jo Comeford. “These numbers are emblematic of the kind of opportunity available to the wider community when we make the right choice of resourcing an institution like GCC.”

In the broadest sense, the EMSI study shows that GCC creates value from multiple perspectives: increasing consumer spending in the region; supplying a steady flow of qualified, trained workers to the workforce; enriching the lives of students by raising their lifetime earnings and helping them achieve their individual potential; increasing tax receipts and reducing demand for government-supported social services; and creating a more prosperous economy through the improved lifestyles of students.

Given the unprecedented churn of our workforce over the past ten months, the EMSI study confirms that community college is the backbone of our future: somewhere people can go to get retrained to have jobs in a post-covid world.

“The study just confirms what we all should know,” says Representative Mark, “That the school is vital to the overall health and development of our region. As a community college graduate myself, I truly recognize the role an associate’s degree can play in advancing your education and career.  I’m lucky enough to have graduated with five different degrees from five different colleges. I mean this sincerely, when I say the two greatest programs I went through were my associate’s degree and my law school education.”

Says Senator Comeford, “In the wake of COVID and the devastation it’s wrought in the commonwealth, Public Higher Education and the ladder to opportunity it creates becomes even more necessary. I am inspired and emboldened by the numbers and what they mean. This report speaks to the power of an institution like GCC to transform not just individual lives, but a region. It can lift up a Commonwealth. ”

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