UH Study Looks at Higher Education in Houston

An economic impact study commissioned by the University of Houston shows the metropolitan area needs to attract more than 40,000 college graduates per year to remain competitive in the national marketplace. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The study set out to determine the impact of higher education, and specifically the University of Houston's footprint, on the Houston community. It showed UH has an economic impact on the Houston community of about $3.1 billion a year. And some results were startling to Dr. Barton Smith, director of UH's Institute for Regional Forecasting, who conducted the study. He says most Houstonians are very proud of their city, but the reality is far from the perception.

"Our overall population has fewer degrees, on a percentage basis, than most other American cities, clearly most American cities that we would consider competitors to us. And even most of the education that we find in Houston is what I refer to in the presentation as imported. That is, most of it is people that we've drawn in from the East Coast, from the West Coast, with degrees."

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, Houston ranks second to last among 60 major cities in terms of college enrollment per capita. UH President Dr. Jay Gogue says higher education in Houston must evolve to help the city regain a competitive edge. He says there are plans to double the space of academic and residential buildings on the central campus.

"It is critically needed. We're about 630,000 square feet below what we need in space for the current number of students that we have. And so for us to provide the kind of environment experience that you want students to have -- we know we've got to grow, we know we've got to improve our facilities, we know we have to grow our research capacity and so there's a lot of growth that's associated with that."

Gogue revealed the expansion plan to a group of alumni and donors. He says it's also part of the ongoing effort to gain Tier-1 status for the university. Mayor Bill White says Houston can't afford to be below average in terms of higher education.

"Higher education is critical to the growth of technology and information in a service economy worldwide. It's a source of recruiting new employees and graduate programs are the source of products and research and development."

The study also showed 81 percent of Houston's college grads come from outside the region. Fourteen percent come from UH and 5 percent come from other Houston institutions. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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