$30,000 study shows Evergreen’s local impact

jdodge@theolympian.comMarch 10, 2013 

I sat in a classroom at Chinook Middle School in Lacey last week, and couldn’t help but notice the diploma and college banner the teacher, Ray Nelson, had hanging on his wall behind his desk — proof he was a proud graduate of The Evergreen State College, class of 1995.

Turns out Nelson and I are two of the 7,827 Evergreen grads living and working in Thurston County. The “Greener” population equals 15 percent of all college graduates living in the county.

These statistics are just a couple of dozens to be found in a recently released study of the economic and fiscal impacts of the college tucked away in the woods west of Olympia.

The $30,000 study by ECONorthwest of Portland gives school officials, students and alumni some data to toot their collective horns in a community where state government may be the 800-pound economic gorilla, but the college is an economic player, too. A few cases in point:

If TESC were a private employer, it would be the fourth largest in the county with 716 employees, according to 2012 data. Providence St. Peter Hospital employment stood at 2,285, followed by the ACS/Xerox call center in Lacey with 1,011 employees and Safeway Stores with 758 workers.

The report says that the college generates $4 in economic activity for every state dollar invested. The number jumps to $20.63, if annual earnings of alumni are included and compared to what they would make without a college degree.

“The college is an economic driver ... it generates more than $100 million a year in net economic activity and hundreds of jobs that would not be in Washington at all, if Evergreen did not exist,” Evergreen college relations director Todd Sprague said.

Here are some interesting facts about the students: Half of them hold down a job while going to school and three-quarters of them are state residents. Four of every five graduates two years ago represented a population often under-served by colleges. They include veterans, low-income citizens, students of color, older students and my favorite group — the first in their family to attend college.

Greeners tend to finish school without a heavy burden of financial debt. About 52 percent of the 2011 graduates were debt-free and those with bills to pay averaged $17,545, compared to a national average of $26,600.

Off-campus spending by students last year approached $52 million in Thurston County.

Since the college that thrives on interdisciplinary studies and shuns grades opened in 1971, it has amassed a pool of more than 39,000 graduates. Evergreen’s Alumni Entrepreneurs Association maintains a voluntary list of — you guessed it — entrepreneurs. They show that at least 535 Evergreen alumni have started their own businesses, including 100 in Thurston County.

Evergreen’s nontraditional approach to higher education will always have its critics. It used to be commonplace during session for a state legislator or two to introduce a bill, calling for the closure of TESC. Not so much anymore, Sprague said.

“Evergreen bashing — we haven’t heard much from the hill this year,” Sprague said of the 2013 state Legislature.

Incidentally, the state lawmakers will be among the first to receive a copy of the TESC economic impact report, a report that also will be used to help with college grant applications and generate broader community and alumni support.

I can just hear the Evergreen nay-sayers now, heaping criticism on the college for spending money on this report. I, for one, think it was money well spent to spell out the college’s economic punch.

“Other colleges in the state have done studies similar to this, but we never had,” Sprague said in justifying the expense. “And it’s not something we plan on repeating any time soon.”

Check it out for yourself at evergreen.edu/about/impact.

SPRING AHEAD

Today ushers in daylight-saving time, the annual ritual that requires us to turn our clocks forward one hour in the spring, then back one hour in the fall.

I heard a lot of chatter this year, wondering if 2013 featured a particularly early start to the fussing with the clocks. Turns out daylight-saving time started March 8 in 2009 and begins March 9 next year and March 8 again in 2015.

Prior to 2007, daylight-saving time traditionally began in April. However, the Energy Policy Act enacted by Congress in 2005 ordered the earlier start, ostensibly to save energy. Turns out the energy-saving side of daylight time isn’t all that significant.

Nevertheless, I’m a big fan of dayling time. It means an extra hour of light on work nights to putter around outside in the garden.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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