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Higher education paying off for Chicago area

Colleges and universities in Chicago’s Loop contributed $3.2 billion to the region’s economy despite suffering enrollment and hiring declines during the Great Recession, a report released Monday shows.

Chicago Loop Alliance, a membership and advocacy group for businesses, commissioned Anderson Economic Group, an East Lansing, Michigan-based consulting group with offices in Chicago, to conduct the study.

The study covers 22 colleges and universities, including trade schools, ranging from Columbia College and Roosevelt and DePaul universities, to Taylor Business Institute and Westwood College.

Among the findings:

  • Students in the Loop and South Loop come from every U.S. state and from as many as 120 countries around the world.
  • The Loop’s enrollment increased from 52,230 in 2003 to a peak of 65,499 in 2009 — roughly a 25.4 percent increase in five years. By autumn 2013, however, the total student enrollment in the Loop had decreased to 58,025, an 11.4 percent fall from the 2009 peak during the economic recession. In total, student enrollment in the Loop has increased by 11 percent over the last decade.
  • Employment at these Loop institutions followed a similar trend, rising from 12,170 employed in the Loop in 2003 to 15,087 in 2008, then falling to 14,028 in 2013. Overall, higher education employment in the Loop is up 15.2 percent in the last decade and is expected to continue rising.

Economic Impact:

  • The 22 institutions in the Loop and South Loop generated $3.2 billion in spending throughout the seven-county region in fiscal year 2013.
  • Within the Loop itself, these institutions drove $174 million of direct and indirect annual economic impact, including $34 million in Loop resident wages, $82 million in college and university spending at Loop businesses, and $58 million in student spending at Loop businesses.
  • After graduation, many students remain in the Chicago area. Of the reported 300,000 alumni of Loop colleges and universities, 28 percent continue to live and work in Chicago. These alumni make up 11 percent of the college-educated population in Chicago.

Michael Edwards, president and CEO of Chicago Loop Alliance, said the small uptick in graduate and undergraduate degrees reflects a “continued forward momentum” of the Loop following the recession.

Recent reports show the Loop retail vacancy is the lowest it has been in at least a decade, and that retail rates have been increasing over the past year on State Street.

Edwards also noted that developers are building new student housing in the Loop, including a project at Jackson and Wabash and new apartments at the Old Colony Hotel at Van Buren and Dearborn, and that work is proceeding on rapid bus transit lanes on State Street, a new CTA L stop at Wabash and Washington, expansion of the School of the Art Institute campus at State and Harrison and a Virgin hotel at Lake and Wabash. And rumors continue that the Congress Hotel could one day be the site of a downtown casino.

“It’s all about making the Loop an attractive place for people to work, live and play,” Edwards said, noting that the aim is to keep in Chicago’s downtown the talents of alumni of the 22 higher-education institutions.