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What colleges do for local economies: A direct measure based on consumption

Brookings
November 17, 2015

Most economists and policymakers know that people who complete a college degree tend to earn more than people who have not attended college. Yet they often overlook the fact that these benefits extend beyond individual workers. The college earnings advantage also leads to greater economic activity, fueling prosperity at the regional and national levels.

With these benefits in mind, this brief finds the following:

  • The average bachelor’s degree holder contributes $278,000 more to local economies than the average high school graduate through direct spending over the course of his or her lifetime; an associate degree holder contributes $81,000 more than a high school graduate.
  • The quality of colleges greatly affects the size of these benefits. High value-added four-year colleges contribute $265,000 more per student to local economies than low-value added four-year colleges. The contribution is $184,000 for high value-added two-year colleges.
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