STEM STUDIES: T’san Griffin, a seventh-grader at Riverside Middle School in Williamston, is participating in an after-school, STEM-based program where students study drug addiction using tapeworms in a partnership with ECU. The students placed tapeworms in solutions of caffeine and sugar to measure how addictive the common ingredients are and behavior patterns from use.  (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
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Chancellor Steve Ballard talks with Allen Scott, an ECU graduate who now works at Spinrite, a yarn manufacturer in Washington.

New study shows economic value of ECU to the state and region

ECU generates billions of dollars for North Carolina and achieves significant regional transformation, according to the first-ever statewide analysis of higher education’s impact on the economy.

The study revealed that payroll and operations expenses at ECU—together with construction funding and spending by students, visitors and alumni—created a $2.8 billion impact for the state, equivalent to 42,798 jobs, during fiscal year 2012-13.

Leaders from ECU and local community colleges convened at an event on ECU’s campus March 24 to spotlight findings from the study, which was commissioned by the University of North Carolina system, the N.C. Community College System and the 36 campuses of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities in the state.

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said the findings demonstrate that ECU is following through on its commitment to the region. Eastern North Carolina alone saw a $1.8 billion impact from the university during the same fiscal year, based on the study.

“We are very happy with this report, which provides further evidence that we are successful in our mission of regional transformation and economic prosperity for eastern North Carolina,” said Ballard.

The study also describes the return on investment to students, society and taxpayers. For every dollar society spent on education at ECU during the analysis year, North Carolina communities will receive a $10.40 value for as long as the 2012-13 students remain active in the state workforce. Students and taxpayers see a 12.6 and 12.3 percent return on investment, respectively.

Shared goals among neighboring institutions were another major theme for leaders at the event.

“The theme of regional economic development will only strengthen at ECU as we engage in new programs like the Center of Excellence for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and other private-public partnerships,” said ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson. “The size of our impact is well reflected in these numbers, and they help to validate our ongoing commitment to the region and to North Carolina.”

Locally, a $1.3 billion impact was observed in the eight-county proximity zone around ECU, which comprises Edgecombe, Wilson, Martin, Pitt, Beaufort, Greene, Lenoir and Craven counties.

Included in this zone with additional economic influence are Lenoir Community College, Martin Community College, Craven Community College, N.C. Wesleyan College, The University of Mount Olive, Barton College, Edgecombe Community College, Pitt Community College and Beaufort County Community College.

“Our area institutions are leaders in the state for offering students different pathways to education,” said John Chaffee, president of the NC East Alliance. “Moving students from high school to the community colleges to the university—ECU is a key part of that—offering more online programs than any other institution in the UNC system­—and it really helps us leverage talent regionally.”

Allen Scott of Trent Woods spoke at the event about his experiences with higher education in the region. His story demonstrates how partnerships and education resources can impact individual lives and the workforce. He received an associate’s degree from Craven C.C. in 1985 then returned there in 2011 to prepare for an economic transition. After one semester, he transferred to ECU’s bachelor of science in industrial technology program and graduated in 2013. He is now a quality manager for Spinrite in Washington.

“ECU played a huge role in preparing me for the workforce,” said Scott. “Thanks to the ECU degree, I’m much more viable in the workplace and certainly less vulnerable to layoffs. I’ll always be grateful for this educational opportunity to improve my circumstances.”

Alumni such as Scott have made a substantial mark on the state. The study concludes the accumulated contribution of ECU alumni employed in North Carolina amounted to $2 billion in added income to the state economy, equivalent to creating 31,460 new jobs.

Approximately 78 percent of graduate and undergraduate students at ECU come to Greenville from outside the eight-county proximity zone. Their spending on things such as groceries, transportation and rent added about $141.4 million in income to the zone’s economy.

Conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the analysis was funded by the North Carolina Business Higher Ed Foundation, the NC Community Colleges Foundation, the UNC system (from non-state funds) and the 36 campuses of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

The full text of the UNC-system report, along with statewide analysis, is online at

—Kelly Setzer

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