CLEMENS: The economic case for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Azaleas bloom around the old well on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill, NC in this photo taken Monday, April 20, 2015 (AP Photo/Gerry Broome).

If I asked you for a dollar on the first of July and told you that I will use it to cure diseases, develop new energy storage technologies, advise county and city governments on stormwater management, perform symphonies, produce works, make art , teaching first-generation college students, promoting the state of North Carolina to the nation and the world, and giving you back the dollar along with some loose change at the end of June, you would think this deal was too good to be true.

Let’s analyze what happens to the approximately $540 million in grants that lawmakers send to our Chapel Hill campus each year to support the nation’s first public university.

The first thing our faculty and staff are doing is multiplying the money by raising $1.16 billion more in externally funded research, an amount that ranks UNC among the top 10 federally funded research universities in the US, higher than Harvard, MIT or UCLA. Research at the UNC is developing new cancer therapies, aiding in road safety, helping to understand how storm surges affect the country’s coasts, and even discovering new exoplanets. Research Money employs approximately 9,500 people in 90 North Carolina counties and generates $90 million in purchases from 6,500 companies in 95 of our counties.

In addition to funding, UNC raises over $400 million more in tuition from nearly 30,000 graduate, undergraduate and professional students. Much of this money comes from outside the state and contributes to our national gross domestic product; The rest keep tuition at home where they can work for the people of North Carolina while providing the best bargain in higher education for the North Carolina student. This year our students came from 98 counties in North Carolina and 40% of them were from rural areas. Eighteen percent of these students will be the first in their families to graduate from college. They will become the doctors, lawyers, artists, historians, businessmen, government leaders, engineers and teachers of tomorrow. You will come with a great education, a degree from one of the top five public universities, and well-prepared to be the workforce of the future that will attract new industries to North Carolina.

In addition to teaching and research, UNC supports innovations. Ideas and inventions by UNC researchers have led to the creation of 274 North Carolina companies. These companies employ more than 9,000 North Carolina citizens and generate $14 billion in annual sales in our state. Together with UNC’s affiliate, UNC Health, itself a $4 billion company, these companies and our campus research activities represent 2.9% of the state’s gross domestic product. The estimated tax revenue from this part of our economy exceeds the $540 million allocated to us.

Every dollar that UNC-Chapel Hills receives from lawmakers comes back to taxpayers with some change.

While it may sound like a deal that’s too good to be true, the public employees of America’s first and most public university keep that promise, year after year. It’s an investment the people of North Carolina can make with confidence.

Chris Clemens is Provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Jaraslov Folda Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Any opinions expressed in this article are not to be construed as an official position of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill