1. Opinion

College's high value overlooked in local economy

Published Apr. 6, 2013

The Pasco Hernando Community College mascot is a conquistador, but a better identity might be a dollar sign. The college, according to a recently released study, contributes $240 million annually to the Pasco and Hernando economies through payroll, other college spending and the higher wages earned by its graduates. On average, a person with an associate's degree can earn $8,200 a year above the annual income of an employee with a high school or equivalency diploma.

In addition to bringing home larger salaries — which means additional personal spending and added government tax receipts — degree-earners also are less likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, commit crimes or rely on public assistance benefits. That translates to nearly $3 million a year savings in health care and government expenses to the community at large, the study said.

The data, part of a statewide study of the Florida College System, is an attempt by an under-appreciated community resource to quantify its financial value. It is particularly well-timed considering the ongoing budget work in Tallahassee where the state colleges are seeking a three-year, $360 million increase, including $22 million this year for the lowest-funded schools like PHCC.

Most of Pasco Hernando Community College's mission is well-documented — it provides access to a high-quality postsecondary education and has done so for four decades. Currently, nearly 18,000 students attend classes on four campuses with a fifth under construction in Wesley Chapel. New bachelor degree programs in nursing and applied sciences will begin in 2014, the same year the Porter campus at Wiregrass Ranch is scheduled to open. And, to reflect its expanding academics, the college is seeking to rebrand itself with a new name that has yet to be chosen.

Certainly, the college's educational, cultural and entertainment opportunities are significant quality of life benefits for both counties. More importantly, Pasco Hernando Community College and the entire 28-college system are cornerstones of their communities. Across the state, 93 percent of the colleges' students remain in Florida after completing their schooling.

It means the public investment stays local with alumni remaining in the area where they work as teachers, nurses, medical technicians, dental hygienists, police officers and other professionals with whom the community interacts routinely. And, as the study from Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. points out, it is a high value interaction that contributes significantly to the bottom line of the region's economy.