Our View: Let college students know they're valued, welcomed
Readers have been asked to imagine this before, this prospect of a new business or industry relocating to the Twin Ports, bringing good-paying jobs and thousands of residents. Such a sudden shot of prosperity and economic good fortune surely woul...
Readers have been asked to imagine this before, this prospect of a new business or industry relocating to the Twin Ports, bringing good-paying jobs and thousands of residents. Such a sudden shot of prosperity and economic good fortune surely would put Duluth and Superior into a tizzy, as we've opined previously. Huge signs would no doubt go up to welcome our new neighbors. And elected leaders would fall all over themselves to vow assistance, to lead the cheering and to take full credit.
Higher education is far from a new industry here. In its 120-year history, it has grown to more than half a billion dollars of annual economic impact with hundreds of good-paying jobs and, each fall, more than 26,000 student-residents, each of them bringing vibrancy and enough cool to make the Twin Ports hum.
And how do we react?
On Tuesday, just days before the big move-in weekend at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the city issued a press release announcing stepped-up police presence involving both the city department and UMD police. Grant money was even found to increase the number of officers assigned to the neighborhoods nearest campus.
So, welcome back to Duluth, college students: We know you'll be up to no good.
"That (sort of response) has always baffled me," former Duluth City Councilor Tony Cuneo, a UMD grad, told the News Tribune Opinion page two years ago. "We should have parades every fall when the students come back. Those universities are so important to our community. They bring in entrepreneurship, graduate-level ideas, federal money -- and parents' money. There are so many reasons universities are critical to our community. We've got to be able to find a way to say we welcome students and their vibrancy and that we want them here."
Yes, some college students cause problems, but the vast majority does not. And while increased police patrols may prove wise, the message it sends can be seen as negative in the face of something that should be treated as positive.
We too often take for granted our college campuses and their libraries, theaters, stadiums, field houses and other available-to-the-public features and amenities. And we too often treat our college students as problems first rather than as blessings.
Imagine what would be lost without them. In 2010, when the News Tribune Opinion page asked James Skurla, the director of UMD's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, to please crunch the numbers, UMD's 11,700 students were spending an average of $10,000 per year to live and to go to school here. Their parents and others were dropping another $222 every time they visited. In total, UMD's annual economic impact on the Northland was $373.7 million, not including on-campus construction.
The University of Wisconsin-Superior generates another $41.2 million in annual spending and income, according to a 2009 study. And the College of St. Scholastica has seen its budget grow from $27 million to $69 million in a decade while its work force grew 65 percent.
Those numbers are only growing larger and more exciting.
So, yes, let's crack down on those few students who get a little too excited about the start of a new school year.
But more, let's welcome back our college community the right way: with friendly signs, warm greetings, neighborhood get-togethers and special deals at area stores. Let's let them know we value them.
Our higher-education industry is just too critical not to -- too critical to our bottom line, to our way of life, to the sort of community we are and to the sort of opportunities and amenities we have and expect to have.