October 24, 2012
By Mitchell Schnurman
It’s evident that big colleges have a big economic impact. Just check out the building cranes and jammed parking lots.
But sensing the effect isn’t the same as documenting it — and promoting it.
The University of Texas at Arlington and Southern Methodist University have put a number on the economic activity they generate, claiming that it tops billions of dollars every year. Some assumptions are a stretch, such as counting the annual spending of all alumni in North Texas — about 40,000 graduates for SMU and 112,000 for UTA.
But the rationale for the studies is telling. A decade ago, higher ed was considered a prized asset, worthy of unconditional support and continued expansion. Today doubters are everywhere, questioning the value of a college education and the return on investment. With tuition and student debt soaring, and growing skepticism among lawmakers and donors, universities must justify themselves like never before. So UTA and SMU are showing that they’re economic engines, too....
SMU said annual spending in Dallas-Fort Worth totals $861 million, including scholarships. More than 40 buildings have been added or renovated since 1995, and by 2015, SMU said, it will have spent $1.2 billion on construction, furniture and equipment over two decades....