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PSC Rally across the Brooklyn Bridge

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CUNY and SUNY are Economic Development

Mar 31, 2022

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Studies Show Investments in NYS Public Higher Education Institutions Have Strong ROI

New York State and its local governments currently spend in the neighborhood of $10 billion annually on a broad array of economic development programs with the goal of creating jobs and strengthening local economies.

Read the factsheet: Redefining Economic Development in New York State

The Legislature is currently trying to determine the efficacy of these programs as evidenced by various proposals in their one-house budgets. Many of the studies that have looked at various economic development programs over the past decade have determined their results leave much to be desired.

When it comes to creating jobs, preparing the workforce of tomorrow and bolstering state and local finances, it is undeniable that SUNY and CUNY have a higher return on investment (ROI) than many traditional economic development programs. In fact, SUNY has a $28 billion annual economic impact and for every dollar spent on SUNY the state gets an $8.17 return on investment. SUNY also grants over 90,000 degrees each year, more than other institution in the state, with 78% remaining and working in New York State two years after graduation.

CUNY is equally as impressive as an economic driver. Its graduates working in New York State earned a combined $57 billion annually ($67,000 on average) in 2019, $28.6 billion more than students would have earned without a post-secondary degree. CUNY graduates working in New York State also paid an estimated $4.2 billion in state income taxes.

“SUNY campuses are economic lifelines to communities across the state, providing thousands of jobs to local workers and pumping millions into local economies,” said Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., president of United University Professions. “Our campuses are keystones of their communities, fostering pride while acting as economic engines locally, regionally and statewide. But decades of underfunding have weakened our campuses and communities. It’s time to fully fund SUNY and make our campuses and our communities whole again. A strong SUNY means stronger communities.”

“Economic Development should not be limited to tax abatements and corporate subsidy style economic stimuluses,” said Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Chair Harry Bronson. “As we begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to ensure an equitable and inclusive recovery – especially for historically disenfranchised and marginalized communities. As a SUNY graduate myself, I know how far strategic investments in the SUNY/CUNY system go. As we redefine ‘economic development’ post COVID-19, I will be working to include the SUNY/CUNY systems in our recovery plan. The return on investment is too great to pass up, and this is a sure way to get New York State back on its feet.”

“The long-term, positive impact of CUNY graduates on the state economy and New York City communities is concrete,” said James Davis, President of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) of CUNY. “We see that in statistics, but also in our day-to-day work. Our 30,000 members work tirelessly to educate students, help them navigate course selections, provide career guidance and essential mental health services. But we’ve done that work for too long with shoe-string budgets. As New York City’s communities – the hardest hit in the pandemic – work their way toward revitalization, the way up is through public higher education. The vast majority of CUNY graduates stay in New York, where they build careers and families. CUNY has a guaranteed return for the taxpayer and should be prioritized as genuine economic development as New York State considers its long overdue overhaul of its corporate subsidy programs.”

Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy said, “The economic impact of New York’s higher education institutions cannot be overstated. SUNY and CUNY alone generate tens of billions of dollars in economic return for our State, not to mention the massive impacts of our private higher education sector. Looking specifically at SUNY we can see a proven return-on-investment of $8.17 for every dollar New York State invests into the system. An 8-to-1 return is a bet I would make every day of the week. I commend Governor Hochul for her executive budget proposal which materially increases New York’s contributions to higher education and encourage our partners in the Legislature to follow her lead. If we want to lead the nation and the world in sectors like advanced manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and agriculture, we must commit adequate financial support to the programs and people who can make it happen.”

“The key to economic recovery out of this pandemic is to invest in people, not one-time corporate giveaways with little, if any, guarantees to better residents and workers’ lives. As the New York City Comptroller, I reported on the impacts of CUNY graduates on the New York State economy and found that in 2019 CUNY graduates paid $4.2 billion in state income taxes and earned $57 billion – that’s $67,000 more a year per graduate – than New Yorkers that didn’t have a college degree. I know the value of a CUNY education. As the former chief fiscal officer for New York City, I know the economic return is worth it,” said former New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Ron Deutsch, Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness said, “It’s time for New York to begin to redefine “economic development” as improving the quality of life for regular New Yorkers and challenge traditional tax abatement and corporate subsidy style economic stimulus. The economic returns on investing in SUNY and CUNY are undeniable and should be viewed as true economic development.”


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