Beyond the Statehouse: How to Use an Economic Impact Study to Communicate Your College’s Value to Constituents

Being prepared with information about your college’s economic impact on the community can connect the institution with business partners, prospective students, and policymakers.

While state support still comprises a significant share of community colleges’ revenues, institutions also depend on other funding sources and partnerships, including federal financial aid, partnerships with employers, local taxing districts, and fundraising. This means college leaders need to be prepared to advocate for their institutions to several audiences, each with different priorities. In this 140-character world, how you communicate your college’s economic impact to a wide variety of key constituents can be as important as the economic impact itself. Framing your institution’s economic impact well can empower college leadership to speak to the needs and values of many stakeholders, both in the statehouse and beyond. 

Show Young People Their Futures

Having conversations with stakeholders about impact often means reaching out to community members one-on-one or in small groups. One of our clients in Michigan shared that one of their economic impact study's key contributions is that their president uses the results in his conversations with local high schools. Like many smaller cities, the college’s hometown is recovering from the loss of manufacturing jobs. The president uses the economic impact study data to convince students to go to college instead of waiting for the unlikely return of factory jobs. With the economic impact study, he is able to show them how much more they’ll earn with a degree right in their community. Not only can the results of an economic impact study be used to shore up financial support for colleges, this information can assist in reaching out to prospective students about the value their institution brings to the community and can bring to them individually. 

Equip Employers for Their Future 

In addition to talking to students about their future jobs, college leaders can leverage information about their institution’s economic impact to talk to employers about their future workers. Often the biggest value an economic impact study has is for talking with local businesses establishing partnerships that benefit both parties. For example, South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington, collaborated with Olympia’s local brewers, economic developers, and the city to establish a state-of-the-art beverage facility. There, the college is able to train students, offer community classes, and provide the skilled workforce that the industry needs in order to grow. The college’s president points to data from their economic impact study as being crucial in convincing the partners that working with the college was a great way to stimulate economic growth. 

Communicating with Policymakers 

Economic impact data provide critical context and support for budget requests. Institutions such as Lamar Institute of Technology, a two-year public institution in Texas, leverage measurable return-on-investment data to make the case for institutional funding to their state legislative bodies. 

In summary, economic impact study data can be used for a broad array of purposes: boards can review data summaries to gauge institutional performance during board meetings, to engage with community stakeholders, to argue cases for new or expanded resources based on objective, quantified data, and to identify challenges and opportunities for students.

As a trustee, you instinctively bring a community perspective to the college. Using economic impact data brings an objective third-party perspective to the college’s economic and social contribution to the community and to the students who attend, which stretches far beyond the sum of its payroll and annual operating expenses. By consistently weaving concrete facts about economic impact into the narrative about why their college matters to each specific stakeholder, college leaders pave the way for growth on campus and beyond.   


Bob Hieronymus is a vice president at Emsi, working with leaders in higher education and industry-leading organizations to bring labor market insight to education technologies and services, helping to inform and connect students, educators, and employers.

 Emsi and ACCT worked together to introduce an economic impact study model 15 years ago specifically suited to measure the economic impact of community colleges on the communities they serve. Since then Emsi has conducted over 1,700 studies for over half of all community colleges in the US.

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