Roy Cordato writes for the Martin Center about flaws in a new economic impact study promoting UNC-Asheville.

Too often, universities use studies about themselves as marketing opportunities rather than a chance to understand reality. This is especially true with “economic impact” studies that purport to examine a university’s effect on a local economy.

One recent example, for the University of North Carolina at Asheville, unfortunately, follows this mold. Produced by a consulting firm called SYNEVA Economics for UNCA, the study concludes that state government spending on UNCA has an annual economic impact on the Asheville region (Buncombe, Madison, Haywood, and Henderson counties) of $450 million. This is generated by spending that flows from state taxpayers through the university and out into the community. The study includes expenditures made by campus operations and construction, alumni who live in the area, student and visitor spending, and new residents attracted by the university.

The return on state spending for the Asheville region declared by the study is impressive, to say the least. Every dollar the state of North Carolina spends on UNCA generates well over an 1,100 percent return to the Asheville area in terms of increased GDP. However, any impacts on other parts of North Carolina related to wealth transfers from taxpayers across the state to the university are not mentioned. In other words, the study says nothing about whether these subsidies are worthwhile for the state, only that they benefit the Asheville region.