The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is a substantial academic and economic powerhouse in its region, supporting an estimated $142.7 million economic impact to Sebastian County in 2019, according to an independent study released today.
The university, which contributes more than 1,400 jobs and $55.4 million in labor income to the regional economy, enrolls nearly 6,500 students annually across its academic programs, ranging from two newly instated master’s degree programs to a wide range of bachelor’s, associate, and certificate programs.
The study, conducted by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, also found UAFS significantly impacts its graduates’ financial future, whose earnings rise markedly after obtaining a credential of any kind. UAFS students who graduated in 2019 exceeded $24 million in additional wages in one year than those who obtained a high school diploma. Those same graduates could also see an increase in lifetime earnings that exceeds $373 million thanks to their academic credentials, according to the study.
“As a regional public institution, our university is uniquely interwoven with this community. The impact we make through education, research, employment, and investment reaches far beyond our campus’s two-mile footprint. Service to those who learn at work at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is truly service to the entire River Valley, and indeed the state of Arkansas as a whole,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, Chancellor of UAFS. “Nearly half of our student body is from Sebastian County, and a large number of those students find fulfilling careers right here in Fort Smith when they graduate.”
“Though we know, anecdotally, that UAFS is a university for the people, and though we see the impact our students make on this community, and this community on our students every day, having that notion quantified by an independent study is deeply rewarding,” Riley continued. “I am immensely proud of the economic impact this institution has on Sebastian County and thrilled to present these results as a fulfillment of our promises to those who invest in our great university.”
The study was completed by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute with the intent to determine the economic impact of the existing facilities, programs, and sponsored grants associated with UAFS and its internal functions, departments, and affiliates in the Fort Smith metropolitan area, using the widely-respected IMPLAN Economic Model to identify, measure, and analyze economic contribution. The report examines faculty and staff spending, student spending, campus visitor spending, and university operations, maintenance, capital projects, and miscellaneous expenditures, through direct, indirect, and induced economic effects. The full methodology is explained on pages 2-3 of the report.
This report differs in some aspects from the 2016 Fort Smith Economic Impact Study. AEDI was tasked with determining the university’s economic contribution to Sebastian County, while the earlier study focused on the six counties that comprise the Greater Fort Smith region. This fact explains differences in job numbers and the figure for economic activity attributed to UAFS.
The more recent study’s scope, confined to spending in Sebastian County, also accounted for different spending estimates for faculty, staff, and students. The AEDI report, unlike the 2016 study, also adjusted its spending estimates to account for staff residency, online students, and students living outside the study area. There was a reduction in capital projects undertaken during the period examined by AEDI. However, the estimate for visitor spending was larger since it included visitors within the Fort Smith metropolitan statistical area excluded from the previous report