Higher Education and Florida's Economy

A new economic impact study says contributions “are increasingly important to the welfare of all citizens.”


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2012) — Florida’s legislative leaders have asked the state’s public colleges and universities to be the economic engine driving the Sunshine State toward a brighter and more prosperous future, and a new economic impact study released by the Board of Governors (BOG) indicates they are succeeding.


Compiled by economic experts from the University of Florida Economic Impact Analysis Program and Florida State’s Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, the in-depth report traces roughly one in every 12 jobs in the state — approximately 771,000 full and part time positions out of a total workforce of 9.8 million — to the direct or extended influence of the State University System (SUS). The system itself employs just over 58,000 faculty and staff.


In strict monetary terms, the study calculates the overall economic benefit of public higher education in Florida, including both direct output by the state’s 11 public universities as well as “value added,” at nearly $80 billion annually. Although that excludes visitor spending and revenues from the transfer of technologies developed by university-supported faculty and researchers, which were not considered in the analysis.


The study’s principals also noted that they adopted “a conservative estimation” for their study, suggesting that the true impact of the SUS on Florida’s economy may be even greater.


As for USF, the study pegs its yearly economic impact at $11.5 billion, substantially more than the university’s own evaluation of approximately $3.7 billion. However, USF’s formula does not factor in certain components included in the BOG report, such as an earnings differential for graduates.


The study also indicates the jobs of more than 111,000 Floridians are the result of USF’s presence and engagement in the state’s economy.


“In an era of declining public funding for higher education, it is important for public policymakers to understand [these] economic contributions to society,” wrote the report’s authors, who further stressed, “The contributions to human capital provided by these institutions are increasingly important to the welfare of all citizens as the technological revolution makes increasingly complex demands for new ways of thinking and doing in the global economy.”


Also highlighted in the report is the rapidly swelling number of graduates — human capital — being produced by SUS institutions. According to the analysis, in the past 30 years the annual growth in the total number of SUS degrees awarded has averaged 3.75 percent, eclipsing the annual 2.4 percent growth rate of the state’s overall population during the same span. 

In just four years recently, according to the experts, the number of students at all levels earning their diplomas from SUS institutions increased by more than 10,000 annually, from 62,832 at the end of the academic year 2006-07 to 73,579 in 2009-10, a gain of approximately 17 percent.


Still, the report cautions that while the number and quality of SUS graduates fulfill much of Florida’s skilled workforce requirements, “the present supply of graduates with relevant expertise does not begin to meet intrastate, national or global demands.” It concludes: “Such extant shortages are detrimental to the advancement of Florida’s economy and hamper the state’s advancement into global markets.”


The full report may be found here.


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.