CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming's seven community colleges generate significant economic benefits for local and state economies -- both directly and through the greater earning power of their graduates, according to a report released Friday.
The colleges generate $866 million annually, according to a study by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. that was commissioned by the Wyoming Community College Commission. The estimate includes college operations, student spending and student impact on the labor market. The commission plans to use the results to support its biennial budget request of the state Legislature.
For every dollar state and local governments spent on Wyoming's community colleges in 2009-10, $1.40 is estimated to be returned to taxpayers in the form of higher tax receipts and savings in social services over the course of students' working careers, the study states.
Community college grads' higher incomes expand the state tax base by about $128.3 million each year. Wyoming service agencies also benefit from lower costs associated with the graduates' better health and reduced spending on crime, welfare and unemployment, resulting in an estimated savings of $4.3 million per year.
Out-of-state students -- about 12 percent of the total student population -- generate roughly $29.8 million in added income each year. Nearly 30 percent of Casper College students come from out of state, generating roughly $15.5 million to Natrona County.
The estimated economic impact of Casper College, which enrolls about 10,000 students annually, is $146 million -- about 3.5 percent of the total Natrona County economy.
A few community colleges commissioned their own studies in previous years, said Jim Rose, executive director of the commission. Rose said the statewide study supports the colleges' mission to promote the economic interests of the state.
"It's a fairly telling report in terms of the importance and the impact of funding provided to colleges," Rose said. "The number of times those dollars are turned over and multiplied is information people should know."
The study also reveals the benefits Wyoming community college students gain from completing associate degrees.
The average income at career midpoint for a graduate is $44,100 -- 35 percent more than a student with just a high school diploma. For every dollar spent on their community college education, graduates receive a cumulative $5.60 over their working careers.