Written by David Rice, Executive Director Higher Education Works
No one doubts Fred Eshelman’s Republican credentials: He’s built and sold pharmaceutical companies for billions. He insists on efficiency. He helped bankroll an effort in 2010 that put Republicans in control of the N.C. General Assembly.
Yet until he stepped down June 30, Eshelman also served on the Board of Governors that oversees North Carolina’s University system for the past three years. He’s given more than $35 million to the aptly named Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill.
So it was significant last month when Eshelman told The News & Observer it’s time for the General Assembly to “stop the bleeding” in the University system. While seemingly defiant, his words offered assurance that Republicans can – and should – support our state’s public universities.
“You can say whatever you want to about the university system, (that) there’s waste and you don’t like their politics,” Eshelman said. “It doesn’t change the fact that, in my view, it’s the biggest economic engine we have in this state. And our state is known for this system.” (1)
Eshelman’s words are solidly supported by conservative economist Michael Walden at N.C. State University. In a 2012 study, Walden calculated the total economic benefits from the University system’s teaching and research in 2008-09 at $7.3 billion.
Based on a $2.1 billion appropriation to our state’s public universities that year, Walden calculated a return of $3.65 for every dollar the state spent.
Those numbers likely understate the impact of public universities on our state’s economy, Walden wrote, listing improved health, reduced crime rates, reduced illness and injury, and worker productivity gains as byproducts the study didn’t capture.
“These conclusions suggest the monetary benefits of the UNC system presented in this report are minimal values, and the impact of the system is much larger,” he concluded. (Emphasis added) (2)
Perhaps that’s why our state’s Constitution says the General Assembly must make sure that the benefits of the University “as far as practicable, be provided to the people of the state free of expense.” (3)
It’s a great investment.
(1) Rob Christensen, “Some Republicans ready to ease cuts to UNC system,” The News & Observer, June 24, 2014. http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/24/3961567/christensen-unc-and-the-republicans.html?sp=/99/102/105//
(2) Michael Walden, “Economic Benefits in North Carolina of the University of North Carolina Campuses, Update 2012,” February 2012, pp. 8-9, 11-12, 16-17. Walden also calculated that University teaching creates more than 62,000 jobs and University research creates almost 25,000 more.
(3) North Carolina State Constitution, Article IX, Section 9.