Growth in the number of graduates earning degrees in high-demand fields, a thriving research and innovation ecosystem, and a commitment to serving the state have lifted the University of Georgia’s annual economic impact to its highest level yet: $6.5 billion.
“This report demonstrates that the University of Georgia is more vital to our state’s success than ever,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “It is gratifying to put a number on UGA’s value to the state economy, even as we know that some of the additional benefits, such as civic engagement and improvements to quality of life, cannot be quantified.”
The university’s economic impact report, now in its fifth year, quantifies three broad variables that reflect the university’s teaching, research and service missions. The economic benefits of the university’s teaching mission are measured by the increased earnings that UGA graduates earn. The impact of the research mission includes economic activity generated by external funding for research as well as business activity generated by startups that are based on research by UGA faculty and staff. The impact of the university’s service mission includes public and private sector efficiencies enabled by units such as the Small Business Development Center, Carl Vinson Institute of Government and UGA Cooperative Extension.
The study was authored by Michael Adjemian, an associate professor of applied and agricultural economics. He emphasized that the $6.5 billion figure is a conservative estimate of the university’s economic impact and that it measures only impacts that exist due to the university’s operations.
Information on how individuals and communities can connect with university expertise and resources—as well as estimates of economic impacts at the local level—are available at https://itstartswith.uga.edu/.
Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders
More than 9,700 undergraduate, graduate and professional students earned UGA degrees in the 2018-2019 academic year, the period the report covers. Those degrees bring increased earnings to graduates as well as increased tax revenue to the communities in which they reside. Nearly two out of every three of UGA alumni live and work in Georgia, where they contribute to a range of fields. Adjemian found that, on average, each dollar of state funding for instruction at UGA generates $12.50 in economic impact.
The university’s completion rates are at record levels, and increases in the number of UGA degrees awarded in high-demand, high-paying fields—such as engineering, computer science and business—contributed significantly to growth in the university’s economic impact. The latest data from the university’s Career Outcomes Survey shows that 96% of alumni are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation, a figure that exceeds the national average by 12%.
Promoting Discovery and Innovation
Research activity at UGA has grown dramatically, with sponsored research expenditures rising more than 37% and sponsored research awards rising nearly 44% in the past five years. Each dollar in external funding from federal agencies, out-of-state foundations and other external sources generates $2 in economic impact as those funds are spent on equipment and the salaries of research personnel.
Research activities not only bring external dollars into the state, but they also advance the university’s three Great Commitments: healthier people, a more secure future, and stronger communities.
Biomedical and infectious disease research at UGA made a significant leap in 2019 with the awarding of an NIH grant for up to $130 million to a team led by Ted Ross, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Infectious Diseases, to develop a universal influenza vaccine. Advances in precision agriculture, new crop varieties and poultry vaccines contribute to food security and support the state’s agricultural industry. To fight human trafficking, UGA social work professor David Okech and his team were recently awarded a nearly $16 million federal grant.
UGA is the nation’s number one university for turning research discoveries into commercial products, and more than 175 companies have been created based on UGA research. To further promote entrepreneurship and industry collaboration, the university is developing an Innovation District at the interface of downtown Athens and UGA’s historic North Campus.
With Public Service and Outreach units and Extension agents serving each of Georgia’s 159 counties, UGA helps create jobs, develop leaders and support communities. In fiscal year 2019, UGA’s Small Business Development Center worked with 4,300 clients and helped to launch 415 new businesses. Over the same time period, UGA Extension made 5.7 million personal contacts—via phone, electronically and in person—that, among other things, helped farmers manage invasive pests and deploy technology to minimize water and fertilizer inputs while maximizing yield. 4-H continues to be Georgia’s largest youth development organization, with more than 250,000 participants in fiscal year 2019.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a Public Service and Outreach unit, is working in a dozen counties and regions to strengthen the local workforce. In Cherokee County, the institute helped bring together representatives from industry, education and other sectors to develop a workforce strategy. Out of that grew internships to introduce rising 11th and 12th grade students to opportunities with local companies. The county also has held career fairs to showcase local employment opportunities for residents who were traveling to other counties for work.
“As Georgia’s flagship, land- and sea-grant research university, we are committed to addressing grand challenges and contributing to the state’s prosperity,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Each part of our mission—and each of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni—contributes to our economic impact.”