Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Valley University student walk outside the Sorensen Center on campus in Orem Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.
We think it highlights a powerful message about the return on investment that this institution is for the state.

OREM — Utah Valley University has provided a return of $7.97 for every state dollar invested by the state for an annual economic impact of $534 million, according to a study commissioned by the university.

UVU’s return on investment to the state’s economy has increased by 21 percent over the past five years, UVU President Matthew Holland said Wednesday.

“This report illustrates in concrete terms what we’ve known about UVU for some time — namely, this institution is an indispensable economic engine for the state and the region,” Holland said. “Rare if ever will a stock or treasury portfolio return an investment eight-fold annually, but that is precisely what UVU does for the state of Utah.”

Holland released the report two days after Gov. Gary Herbert released his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012, which allocated about one-half to one-third of the amount Holland says higher education needs to fund growth.

According to a news release, of the more than half-billion dollars UVU contributes to Utah each year, $458.7 million is concentrated in the institution’s service region — comprised of Utah, Summit and Wasatch counties. UVU’s value-added impact — which subtracts inputs from total economic output — is about $374 million annually, based on a return of $5.58 per state dollar invested, with $333 concentrated in the University’s service region.

The study, conducted by Jack Faucett Associates Inc., also quantified the school's impact to the additional lifetime earnings of UVU graduates, almost $2 billion for the 3,700 students in the class of 2010.

"We think it highlights a powerful message about the return on investment that this institution is for the state," Holland commented. "It shows the kind of impact institutions like these have on our engines of economic growth and development."

In terms of jobs, UVU is the fifth-largest employer in Utah County with 1,529 full-time employees and 2,982 part-time employees. According to the study, UVU supports an additional 6,399 full-time equivalent jobs in its service region.

Holland said UVU’s economic impact study reinforces the position of the Prosperity 2020 initiative that education and the economy are inextricably linked. Prosperity 2020 aims for 66 percent of Utahns to obtain higher education by 2020, up from the current mark of 39 percent, to increase the attractiveness and effectiveness of Utah’s workforce.

"To continue to get this kind of return on investment, we'll have to have additional investment from the state," he said. "The state, frankly, has not kept pace with our enrollment growth. For us to build on where we are, we'll have to have those added resources."

Holland said about 1,700 prospective students were unable to enroll this year because they could not get the classes they needed.

"If we want to continue to see this be the engine of economic prosperity that it can be, we'll need to have addition state investment in higher education," Holland said. "I was, frankly, hopeful that we would see more support for enrollment growth from Gov. Herbert's budget."

The governor proposed Monday spending $3 million for growth at the state's colleges and universities.

Holland said he would like to see the state add $6 million to $10 million more, similar to what the Board of Regents has already requested.

Herbert's budget director Ron Bigelow said the governor and lawmakers will consider the issue of growth funding during the next legislative session, but any decision would be based on available financial resources.

"We recognize that there is just not much money in the system, (but) there needs to be a more balanced commitment to higher education," Holland said, "and doubling or tripling what is currently in the governor's proposed budget for enrollment growth would be at least a more substantial start to accommodating what we've had and putting us in a position to handle that growth moving forward."