Long Island's private, nonprofit colleges and universities contributed $3.4 billion to the local economy, according to a new report -- a greater impact than in previous years, despite losing students and employing fewer workers during a challenging time for the largely tuition-dependent schools.
The colleges collectively infused hundreds of millions more dollars in 2013 than the $2.8 billion estimated in both 2011 and 2009 on instruction, research, administration, services, construction and spending by students, visitors and employees.
The schools surveyed for the report, conducted every two years, were Adelphi, Dowling, Hofstra, LIU Post, Molloy, New York Institute of Technology, Polytechnic University, St. Joseph's College and Touro College. Also factored in were Webb Institute, a naval architecture school in Glen Cove, and the Watson School of Biological Sciences, a doctoral program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, both of which rely on endowments rather than student tuition.
Hofstra's new medical school, opened in the summer of 2011 with the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, fueled much of the economic activity, according to the report's author.
"Medical colleges are significant contributors to the economies of their regions," said Kent Gardner, chief economist at the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research Inc., which prepared the report. "They facilitate residencies and become a vehicle for research activity. There's the ripple effect too. They bring higher-paid jobs and families into the area."
Herman Berliner, provost at Hofstra University for 25 years, said the impact of the medical school "will be greater than anything we've done so far." However, it will take a few years before the number of health care students replaces the enrollment losses in the schools of education and law -- both of which have been hit hard by cutbacks in school districts and law firms, he said.
Meanwhile, the private schools have collectively lost 5,774 enrolled students, an 11 percent drop, and granted 1,053 fewer degrees in 2013 than they did in 2009. During the same time period, the schools employed 787 fewer workers either directly or indirectly, including through construction contracts.
The report, which used federal and state education data, was released this week by the Albany-based Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, or CICU, an association of more than 100 private, nonprofit postsecondary institutions in New York.
Higher education leaders in Nassau and Suffolk counties said the decline in the number of traditional college-age students in the Northeast -- that is, those going on to higher education after high school -- is expected to shrink the pool of prospective students for the next few years.
Private college officials said they are tweaking their program offerings to better mirror the demands of the economy, offering more online and hybrid courses and heavily recruiting out-of-state, international and nontraditional students.
"This is the time, really, when you roll up your sleeves and change what you do and reinvest in your institution," said Jackie Nealon, vice president and chief of staff at LIU Post, where the administration has eliminated positions and restructured staff.
Making more federal and state financial aid available to students would help put these private schools within reach of local students, local college leaders said, indirectly boosting the economy.
"Our students grew up on the Island, they want to go to school on the Island and they tend to stay on the Island, but access and affordability is an issue," said Jack Calareso, president of St. Joseph's College, which has campuses in Patchogue and Brooklyn.
Statewide, the total economic impact of the independent private, higher-education sector was $74.3 billion -- an increase of $11.1 billion, or 18 percent over 2011's total, the report said.
New York City's institutions had an economic impact of $45.9 billion in 2013.
Overall, the report said, statewide enrollment saw a 0.8 percent increase in 2013 over 2011.
CICU President Laura Anglin said enrollments were strongest after the most recent recession, when people typically either stayed in college or returned there because of a tight job market.
She noted that student and visitor spending statewide was up 5 percent, a significant contribution.
"We are bringing people into the area where the colleges are," Anglin said. "That wouldn't happen otherwise, absent our schools being in these communities."