A recent study found that community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties had a $10 billion economic impact on the region – a financial boost equivalent to the spending generated by hosting 28 Super Bowls.
The 10 community colleges in the region support more than 100,000 jobs or about one out of every 23 jobs in the two-county area. The colleges’ economic impact is reflected in the jobs that graduates attain in high-demand industries because of their education, the cost of running the institutions and paying more than 11,000 employees, and the cost of construction at the college campuses.
Lightcast, a leading provider of economic impact and labor market data to educational institutions and workforce planners, conducted the study. It was based on data from the 2021-2022 academic year from the community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties: Cuyamaca College, Grossmont College, Imperial Valley College, MiraCosta College, Palomar College, San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Miramar College, San Diego College of Continuing Education, and Southwestern College.
“The positive impact of community colleges in the region cannot be understated,” said Star Rivera-Lacey, Superintendent/President of Palomar College and chair of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community College Association (SDICCCA), which commissioned the survey. “Our economic impact is significant, as is the work we do each day to transform the lives of our students through education and training.”
The study found the greatest economic impact of the colleges came from alumni spending, which generated $8.2 billion in added income for the regional economy, the equivalent of supporting almost 80,000 jobs. As a result of their education, hundreds of thousands of former community college students receive higher earnings and increase the productivity of the businesses that employ them, the study noted.
Student spending accounted for a $427.5 million economic impact, the equivalent of almost 6,000 jobs. About 7% of students attending the colleges came from outside the region, and other students would have left the region had they not been attending community college. All those students spent money on housing, groceries, transportation, and other expenses that generated added income for the region.
SDICCCA colleges spent funds on design and construction to maintain facilities, create additional capacity, and meet growing educational demands. This construction spending generated $76 million in added income to the region, the study found.
Lightcast also found that the region’s community colleges are an excellent investment for students, taxpayers, and society. For every dollar that a student invests in their community college education, they will have a return of $5.30 in higher future earnings over their working lives, a rate of return of 19.9%.
Education plays a vital role in shaping individuals, empowering communities, and driving societal transformation. Taxpayers benefit through added tax revenue because of students’ higher lifetime earnings, equaling about $1.7 billion compared to $1.4 billion in tax funding provided to the colleges. For every dollar of public money invested in the region’s community colleges, taxpayers receive $1.40 in return, the study found. In addition, the report indicated the public and private sector savings total more than $366 million, and the people of California receive $10.20 for every dollar invested in community colleges.
“The results demonstrate that SDICCCA is a strong investment for all three major stakeholder groups—students, taxpayers, and society,” the study concluded. “Students receive a great return for their investments in education through the colleges. At the same time, taxpayers’ investment in SDICCCA returns more to government budgets than it costs and creates a wide range of social benefits throughout California.”