Economic punch

Research universities have $7 billion impact on Greater Boston

In the constitution he wrote for Massachusetts in 1780, John Adams included the mandate: "to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences…"

A report on the economic impact of Greater Boston's eight research universities, "Engines of Economic Growth," released earlier this year, supports the continuing value of that two-century-old directive.

boston skyline

"While the Midwest may produce cars and steel, and the South may produce textiles, paper and citrus, we produce brains, new ideas and new technologies," Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow told a crowded breakfast meeting of the Boston Chamber of Commerce in March.

According to the report, the eight institutions—Tufts, Boston College, MIT, the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard University and Northeastern University—constitute the largest economic sector in the region. These colleges and universities:

  • have more than 310,000 alumni in the Greater Boston area, representing roughly 30 percent of area residents with college degrees;
  • serve more than 200,000 students;
  • employ nearly 51,000 people;
  • receive $2.5 billion annually in research funds, including grants to affiliated hospitals and research centers. In 2000, research conducted at the eight institutions resulted in 264 patents, 280 commercial licenses of technology and 41 start-up companies.

At the chamber breakfast meeting, Bacow provided the overview of "Engines of Economic Growth," which was followed by comments from his peers.

In past years, the schools have prepared individual economic value reports, "fracturing our impact," BU Chancellor John Silber said. The "unfractured impact" shows that in 2000, the eight institutions directly spent $3.9 billion on payroll, purchasing and construction, which multiplies into an indirect economic impact of more than $7 billion and 37,000 additional full-time jobs.

"We seek a renewed spirit of cooperation from business and government leaders," Bacow said in summary. Some of his colleagues were more specific. MIT President Charles Vest noted that the cost of housing is the greatest problem facing MIT as well as the city. His colleagues nodded agreement.

Economist Lawrence Summers, Harvard's president, pointed out that the best investments for a region are immobile—such as people and natural resources—making higher education a good investment. "But it's also at risk because it can be taken for granted," he cautioned.

You can access the complete "Engines of Economic Growth" report at