Our Views: Real value of degree

If there is one thing that public colleges are aware of every day, it is that their money comes not just from students in the form of tuition but also from taxpayers. Less so, unfortunately, as states such as Louisiana have cut sharply state aid to universities that used to be emblematic of this state’s pride in itself.

Public colleges thus should never miss the chance to call attention to their economic impact on their communities. LSU, as a system with campuses across the state from New Orleans to Shreveport, recently published a study about just how much those campuses mean to their immediate communities.

In New Orleans, where one of the two medical campuses is located, it’s some 6,900 jobs and more than $800 million in economic activity. In Baton Rouge, where the main campus and the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center are located, it’s even bigger, at more than 21,000 jobs and more than $2 billion.

Now, all this includes every expenditure, by students as they go to school and by the institutions for their operations. It’s still quite impressive.

We recognize those values in LSU — for that matter, every city that has a campus of higher education knows that the institution is a real economic center.

But what is the value of these campuses, these purchases? It is small compared with what the campuses do. In the case of a major institution such as LSU, those tasks include adding through research to human understanding of the universe. Research is a consistent driver of economic development.

In the most basic sense, though, the economic value of a university is the minds of its graduates. Even in the years of one of the worst recessions in American history, the value of the earnings of a college graduate has continued to increase.

A new study by Pew Foundation researchers shows the gap is increasing between the earnings of the college-educated and those with only a high school diploma. Much of that is the decline in the value of blue-collar jobs, but there nevertheless is still a significant premium for education. The role of colleges in the advancement of young people has never been greater, despite the ups and downs of the economy over the last decade or so.

“The picture is significantly bleaker for less-educated workers,” the Pew team concluded.

We in Louisiana should never forget the premium in economic terms of a four-year degree. We should as taxpayers demand that the state seek to grow our population of the college-educated workers of the future.