Gazette-Mail Guest Column
West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities
The Economic Impact of Independent Colleges and Universities on Their Communities
The role that independent colleges and universities play in educating their students is well known. What is less known is the role that they play in the economies of the communities in which they are located. According to the Atlantic, “Pick out any rural college town and it’s likely doing better economically than other nearby rural areas.” The majority of the independent colleges and universities in West Virginia are located in rural communities.
Colleges and universities, particularly those located in rural areas, have a major impact on knowledge creation, research and development, direct and indirect expenditures flowing into the surrounding areas, and the potential workforce. West Virginia’s independent colleges and universities are investing in their communities. They renovate buildings, work to bridge the physical gap between campuses and downtowns, and they get involved in initiatives ranging from economic development to educating local residents. These educational institutions produce research and technology that can be parlayed into new businesses, creating jobs nearby. Local businesses are often created to serve the needs of the colleges and universities and their students. The schools bring to the area students, who spend money on restaurants and services, and attract professors and administrators, who do the same and also buy houses and cars. West Virginia’s independent colleges and universities enroll over 8,850 students annually. They employ over 1,500 full time employees.
Globalization, economic change and technology demand some post-secondary education to compete in the workforce of the future. Colleges and universities located in rural communities expose both students and adults to the college experience that they may not typically have experienced. To many youth, attending college is not an option for numerous reasons including, distance to attend school and unfamiliarity with higher education. Having an institution located close by and knowing someone who has attended or is attending that college or university may create an interest in considering higher education. Students raised in an environment where they have been exposed to college are more likely to go to college. West Virginia’s independent colleges and universities offer their communities that exposure. Over half of the students attending West Virginia’s independent colleges and universities are West Virginians.
West Virginia’s independent liberal arts colleges and universities play an important role in educating students and stimulating the economy of the communities where they are located. They are an active and essential component of our state’s educational, economic, and cultural life.