Breland: The economic benefit of community colleges
Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.

Community colleges have always been a sound financial investment, not only for the students who are able to obtain high-quality education and training at a fraction of the cost of most four-year universities, but also for the communities they serve.

A uniquely American idea, community colleges have been called “the Ellis Island of the middle class” for their ability to serve students from diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds while being one of the nation’s key drivers of economic mobility.

Local economies benefit from community colleges in a number of ways, as colleges not only attract their own highly skilled and educated workforce, but also support local businesses through the procurement of millions of dollars in goods and services.

Locally, a recent economic impact analysis of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District—which operates Evergreen Valley College, San Jose City College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility—conducted last year by Emsi, an international labor market analytics firm, found that the district contributes nearly $900 million to the local economy each year.

The report concluded that not only does the school district contribute substantially to the local economy, but that students, taxpayers and society in general realize a great return on investment from their local community colleges. In San Jose-Evergreen Community College District’s case, for every $1 spent, students can expect an increase in $6.10 in lifetime earnings, taxpayers gain $2.30 in added tax revenue and society gains $12 in added income and social savings.

The study also found that a worker with an associate degree from San Jose City College or Evergreen Valley College will see an increase in annual earnings of about $10,000 per year on average over someone with just a high school diploma or equivalent in California.

This economic impact is realized through the cumulative effect of the district’s operations, construction, student and alumni activities and is enough to support almost 7,000 jobs per year, according to Emsi. This amounts to a staggering overall impact that directly benefits many local small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

Breaking down the total contributions of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District to the economy, the study highlights the impact of the district’s proud alumni, whose employment generated more than $700 million in value.

As the study concludes, the community college district benefits Santa Clara County businesses by “increasing consumer spending in the county and supplying a steady flow of qualified, trained workers to the workforce.”

Additionally, the study found that the district “enriches the lives of students by raising their lifetime earnings and helping them achieve their individual potential. The colleges benefit state and local taxpayers through increased tax receipts and a reduced demand for government-supported social services.”

This confirms the indispensable value of San Jose-Evergreen Community College to our local region, but an analogous study conducted for nearly any community college anywhere in the country would arrive at similar findings. When it comes to higher education, and public spending in general, you would be hard pressed to find a better investment than your local community college.

Community colleges work. They provide an affordable way for students wanting to improve their career options while providing the workforce needed to fuel a range of industries such as health care, hospitality, computer technology, manufacturing, construction trades and more.

San José Spotlight columnist Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland is chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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