It has been conventional wisdom for several decades that a college education is one of the best investments a person can make in their future.
It has also long been understood that public investment in higher education — through taxes and government funding — is worthwhile and brings numerous benefits to society.
I still believe in my heart that these things are true, but it is no longer a given that the general public agrees.
Unfortunately, more people are questioning the value of a college degree. Publicly funded higher education — which in our state includes the California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California campuses — has come under scrutiny in recent years, as elected officials and taxpayers alike struggle to agree on the role of education in our culture, how that education should be delivered, and who should be paying for it.
As the leader of an institution of higher education, I take these questions and concerns very seriously. Among others, this is one reason why at Merced College, we recently commissioned a study to determine exactly how much value people get when they invest in us — from students paying tuition and fees to local residents who contribute to us simply by paying their taxes.
The study was conducted by Emsi, a labor market data company that has been advising leaders in higher education, business, and community development since 2001. Emsi measured the economic impacts created by Merced College on the business community and the benefits the college generates in return for the investments made by students, taxpayers and society.
The results of this study are conclusive and consistent: Merced College is an outstanding investment, no matter how you slice it.
Among the key takeaways:
Merced College promotes economic growth: Through direct operational expenditures like employee wages and the purchase of goods and services, plus other benefits like increasing students’ earnings and decreasing their need for government services, Merced College creates a total economic impact of $545.1 million per year.
Merced College creates wealth for our students: The direct value of a community college education is clear. For every $1 a student invests in their Merced College education, students receive $6.80 in future earnings throughout their working lives.
Merced College retains wealth for our community: Our alumni, by and large, remain in the Merced area after graduation and continue spending and investing in our local communities.
Merced College generates more tax dollars than it takes: As Merced College students earn more money, they also make higher tax payments. Because they earn more, our students and alumni also depend less on government services, which becomes a benefit to taxpayers and to society. According to Emsi’s analysis, for every $1 we receive in state funding, the college contributes $1.50 to government coffers.
The bottom line is that Merced College provides numerous economic benefits to students, to taxpayers, to local businesses, and to our region and state at large.
We are a major employer that pays good wages with outstanding benefits to local residents. We are an educational institution that provides countless opportunities for students of all ages to increase their earning power and create a better quality of life for themselves and their families. And we are an integral part of the societal and cultural ecosystem that keeps the Merced region thriving.
There are certainly differences of opinion regarding the nuances of how we educate our students or how we operate as an organization, but there can be no question that Merced College is a vital part of this amazing community, and that our region is better off because of it.
Chris Vitelli, Ed.D., is president of Merced College.