CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois University and the thousands of students who flock there influence the local and state economy substantially, according to a recent study evaluating the financial impact the university has on the area.
In a 16-page study conducted by Coles Together, a local economic development agency, they concluded that when more money is funneled into the university, more local and state economic growth follows suit.
“The economic impact of Eastern Illinois University on the local economy is remarkable in its breadth and depth,” the study reads. “The institution outperforms the economic impact of most industries in Coles County. For every dollar spent by the university, additional employment, revenue, and wealth are created in the county.”
The figures from the study depicted the positive impacts the university makes on the local and state economy excluding the cultural, philosophical or intellectual impact the university makes in Charleston and the surrounding areas.
According to the studies findings, for every 100 persons employed by Eastern, an additional 71 jobs are added to the region and a total of 79 are added in Illinois.
Additionally, they calculated that for every $100 the university spends in operating costs, an additional $83 in economic output is generated in the region and a total of $99 is generated within the Illinois economy.
Despite these numbers, and others included in the study, the appropriations from the state have dwindled, even before the budget impasse.
According to Eastern figures dating back five years, there has been a continued decline in state financial support to the university. In fiscal year 2012, the university received near $47 million, however in 2015, the university got a full appropriation, they received almost $43 million.
Angela Griffin, Coles Together president, said the idea to conduct such as study was percolating for a while before actually pulling the trigger on the study, starting in fall 2015. The organization was wondering if it had been measured or quantified in a while.
“It turns out it had not,” Griffin said.
An internal study done by Eastern in 2000 was the last time a comparable study of the university’s impact on the area had been conducted.
For Griffin and Coles Together, it became clear there was a need for the study after the start of the budget impasse that still has yet to waver between lawmakers in Springfield.
“At that point (in 2015), we were just exploring that idea,” Griffin said. “Then the budget crisis occurred and Eastern’s funding was in jeopardy, and so then it became even more clear that we as a community should understand the economic impact Eastern has.”
The study was run through a couple of modeling programs, IMPLAN 3.1 and Regional Economic Modeling, to reach the figures reached in the study. Griffin said the funding for the study came from local investors in Coles Together who earmarked their funding for this study.
A lot of people in the county wanted their resources to go to this project to find out the exact impact the university has on its surrounding areas, she said.
Griffin said Coles Together saw it as information tool not only for the community, but specifically for Eastern to use to make their case when seeking more state support.
“It will help (EIU President David Glassman) build a case for funding for EIU,” she noted. “I think this will give (state lawmakers) a very clear picture that an investment in higher ed is a substantial return on investment for the state of Illinois at a time when the state is struggling with revenue.”
Glassman sees the report of the study as an opportunity to show hard numbers on what the university means to the area financially.
“This report is very important to share with our legislators as it presents hard data that documents the value of investment by the state to supporting EIU,” Glassman said.
Other state universities communities have done similar studies depicting their impact to their economy as well, Griffin said.
A study showing Eastern’s impact on the local economy would be good to have, but the university’s success with academics is a better selling point, state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said.
It’s not Coles Together’s role to address academics but any economic impact “has to be in tandem with what we’re doing for students,” Righter said.
“The view people here have is whether Eastern and all the institutions of higher learning are best using their resources in the most efficient way to prepare students for the 21st Century economy,” he said.
Outside of sharing it with legislators, Glassman said the report will be used “for marketing purposes, in grant proposals, and to assist Cole County in recruiting businesses into our area.”