Public Universities: An industry that does not relocate

By Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, Ph.D.

El Diario La Prensa

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In recent years, the press has reported many instances in which companies that have received generous tax concessions and other economic assistance from a city or state opted to relocate to another city, state, or foreign country because it will receive preferential treatment there. These stories always infuriate the taxpayers, not only because the local government will no longer receive the taxes those companies would have paid, but also because of the loss of  direct and indirect jobs resulting from the move.

One sure way to support companies and institutions that do not abandon our city and state is to invest in public universities.  Why?  First, they are a great investment for taxpayers.  Second, because they make a vital contribution to the economy of the communities in which they are located.  And finally, because they will not relocate, given their steadfast commitment to the communities they serve.

The taxpayers of New York City, for example, saved nearly $1.8 million last year on health, unemployment, welfare, and crime prevention costs through the presence of Eugenio María de Hostos Community College in the Bronx.  How so? Due to the additional benefits that are derived from a good education: less consumption of tobacco and alcohol, less dependence on public assistance, and lower crime rates, among others. If you calculate the total savings generated in these areas for all the colleges that comprise the CUNY system, they would amount to about $50 million annually in savings for New York City.

Moreover, there is no question that public colleges are excellent investments for students and their families. A worker with an associate’s degree earns about $19,000 more per year than a high school graduate. Taking Hostos Community College as an example, every dollar a student pays in tuition represents nearly $9 dollars more in future income. From a financial perspective, education is a formidable social and personal investment.

Finally, investing in public higher education is good policy because after a public college or university is established in a community, it does not relocate. The surrounding neighborhoods will continue to benefit from the economic activities generated by the college’s students and employees: increased trade for mid-size and small businesses, increased lease payments and rental income, as well as an attractive environment for new commercial enterprises. Think, for example, of what the 18,000 students and 500 employees of Hostos Community College spend daily and yearly in the South Bronx. Thanks to the commitment and stability of public colleges, the businesses of the Bronx do not have to worry that the economic activity and improvements to the quality of life that these institutions generate might move to another city or state. Public higher education institutions do not abandon their communities!

In times of fiscal constraints, when the city and the state must make difficult decisions, investing in public institutions of higher education makes excellent sense.  It is an investment in the economic growth, quality of life, and stability of our communities.