Small colleges, big impact

By The Mercury

When one private college in Kansas toots its horn, it doesn’t always make a lot of noise. But when 18 of them do so together, the impact can be mighty impressive — almost $1 billion worth.

The Kansas Independent College Association consists of 18 private colleges and universities across the state. And it so happens that a study the association (KICA) commissioned turned up an annual economic impact on the state of $980 million.

Almost three-fourths of that — $720 million — stems from their graduates’ increased productivity. Another $230 million involves the salaries and wages the colleges and universities pay their collective 4,400 employees and the money those employees then turn around and spend in their local economies.

Another $16 million is generated by student spending on entertainment, food, gas and other items, and $14 million comes from the 250,000-plus people who visit the 18 campuses for athletic or cultural events and other reasons.

Academically, the colleges issue almost 5,000 degrees, most of them bachelor’s degrees. Small wonder, then, that Matt Lindsey, president of KICA, said, “We’re essentially the third largest college in the state.”

Even as a group, KICA members can’t compete for attention with the Kansas Board of Regents institutions, especially Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. Mr. Lindsey is probably correct in noting that many Kansans know little if anything about some of the state’s independent colleges. 

Raising their collective profile was, in fact, one of the reasons for the economic impact study, Mr. Lindsey acknowledged, saying, “A lot of folks don’t realize our schools are here.”

Manhattan residents are aware of Manhattan Christian College, one of KICA’s members, but that doesn’t mean folks in Wichita, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or Hays know much about it, or have even heard of it. What’s more, even some Kansans who’ve heard of Bethel and Bethany colleges aren’t sure which is which. The two have similarities — both call small towns home and have Christian affiliations, for example — but each is unique, as is the case with all of the private colleges in Kansas.

And the impact — academic, spiritual and cultural — that these independent institutions have will continue to make them important educational options for young people from Kansas as well as other states.

That might not be as attention-grabbing as $980 million a year, but it can be immeasurable.

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