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Half of California bachelor’s degrees are awarded by Cal State, report says

A student in graduation regalia sitting on top of a car with blue and white balloons
A student receives her diploma during a Cal State San Marcos graduation parade in May. The California State University awards more bachelor’s degrees each year than any other institute of higher education in California.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The California State University, the largest four-year university system in the nation, is showing off the scale of its impact: More than 100,000 job-ready graduates every year, $27 billion of economic activity stimulated annually and a sevenfold return on every dollar that the state invests.

That’s the message the university hopes to get out with a report released Thursday. “The Impact of the California State University,” an analysis commissioned by the university and conducted by an outside consulting firm, quantifies the university’s economic contributions to the state, helping the university make its case to government and private funders for continued support amid uncertain budgets and persistent high demand from students.

“This new report helps to further illustrate and quantify the consequential impact of the CSU on the Golden State,” Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said in a statement. “A return of nearly seven dollars for every dollar invested in the university demonstrates the wisdom of continued bold investment in the university.”

The report is similar to other universities’ “brag sheets,” but the sheer size of the 23-campus system means that its numbers dwarf those of many of its peers:

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  • Nearly half of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the state come from a Cal State campus. In May, the university awarded close to 110,000 baccalaureate degrees.
  • 209,000 jobs are created each year as a result of Cal State spending. These include jobs in retail, housing, transportation and medical care.
  • In 2018-19, university spending, including operations, capital and student spending, totaled $17.5 billion. But that sum generated a total of $26.9 billion in “industry activity” — meaning both direct and indirect sales and spending. It also produced $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue.
  • Alumni who were still working in 2019 earned $70.7 billion more than they would have without their Cal State degrees.
  • In 2018-19, every dollar invested by the state stimulated almost $7 of industry activity.

At the local level, campuses in Los Angeles and Orange counties spent $5.4 billion in 2019, helping to create 58,000 local jobs and stimulating almost $8 billion in economic activity in the region.

San Diego State had the biggest impact of any campus, generating more than $2 billion in economic activity locally — including direct spending by the university community on things such as food, housing and retail, as well as indirect spending from stimulating other sectors.

The report also described the impact of the Cal State system on specific industries, including business management, education and health — among the most popular fields for graduates — and the contributions of its research activities, supported by $648 million in grants and private funding.


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