BBJ: ‘Metroversities’ economic impact is No. 1 in Boston
As originally appearing in The Boston Business Journal

By Mary Moore/Boston Business Journal Reporter

Greater Boston is more than a college town — it’s a large metropolitan area with an economy that gets more impact from its colleges and universities than any other metropolitan area nationwide, according to a new report.

Boston ranks first when ranked on a combination of factors, such as the total economic spending of the region’s colleges and universities, their per capita spending, the ripple effect throughout the economy of their spending, and the jobs that colleges and universities create.

The report, which includes Cambridge and Quincy in its geographic definition of Boston, is the work of Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State University, and his research partner, Michael Konig, founding dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Bay Path College.

Dubbing the metropolitan areas “metroversities,” the research Dobelle and Konig have completed gives a deeper understanding of why colleges and universities should matter to Boston — and Bostonians — Dobelle said.

“This (report) says how higher education affects you,” said Dobelle. “In the world of public policy, it makes the argument that higher education is an industry. They’ll talk about the banking industry and the car industry and the insurance industry, but they never talk about the higher-education industry.”

Colleges and universities in Boston, Cambridge and Quincy enroll 230,000 full-time students and the total annual higher education expenditures in the area total more than $2,300 per capita, according to the report. When that spending spreads throughout the economy — the multiplier effect — it translates into more than $31 billion in spending, the report said.

Meanwhile, higher education sustains 147,745 jobs, which is 8.76 percent of the total workforce in the area.

Metropolitan areas with concentrations of higher education that fall behind Boston in the ranking include Raleigh-Cary-Durham, Baltimore-Towson, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Philadelphia, San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett.

The Boston area beats other metropolitan areas in the amount of research expenditures it makes and the federal appropriations, grants and contracts it receives, the report said.

The area fell lower on the list in total faculty and staff employees and total economic expenditures.

The findings of the research should translate into public money for Boston, Dobelle said — more stimulus and research funding, more student grants, more financial investment.

Indeed, the research could help the New England Council make a stronger case in Washington, D.C., for maintaining Pell grants at their current level, said James T. Brett, president of the council. Fewer grants would mean fewer students — and that would deeply dent Boston’s economy, Brett said.

Tom Chmura, vice president for economic development at the University of Massachusetts, said the economic boost from colleges and universities is evident beyond Boston, Cambridge and Quincy. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for one, has helped attract biomanufacturing firms to Fall River and is a partner in the area’s new Biomanufacturing Center.

“It’s playing out in a lot of places around the state,” Chmura said.

Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, said he “respectfully disagrees” with Dobelle’s assertion that higher education is not viewed as an industry — at least, that’s not the case in Massachusetts, Bialecki said. And that’s why colleges and universities are among the nonprofits that receive “large tax advantages,” he said.

“Those things aren’t accidents. It’s deliberate policy,” Bialecki said. “We understand how important they are to our economy.”

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