Hindman: Higher ed keeps Columbia resistant to economic downturns

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 | 7:24 p.m. CST; updated 10:19 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — The economic engine of higher education is helping protect Columbia during the tough economic times, Mayor Darwin Hindman told CNBC on Tuesday.

Hindman was featured on an CNBC segment called "Beating the Odds" to explain how Columbia is faring well compared to national trends.

The mayor said he “absolutely” believes Columbia’s savior is higher education. 

“We notice that in bad times, a lot of people turn to higher education to ensure the possibility of staying in the work force and staying employable,” Hindman said.  

In a weeklong series, CNBC will highlight cities that are "surviving and thriving" despite the economy. Morgantown, W.Va., was featured Monday, and a piece on Grand Junction, Colo., is expected to air Wednesday.

Columbia and Morgantown both have public universities with about 30,000 in enrollment, but Morgantown depends on coal and gas production and Columbia has two private colleges in addition to MU.

The presence of higher education in Columbia insulates it from serious economic blows because of the need to keep preparing students for the job market.

“Higher education is something that this country needs, a community needs it, the state needs it, and our nation needs it if we are going to remain competitive in this knowledge-based economy,” he said. 

“Higher education has got to be supported, and that’s in good times and bad.”

Hindman pointed to Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to keep funding stable as evidence of state acknowledgment that higher education drives economic development. 

Columbia's unemployment is also lower than the national figure, which contributes to a steady local economy. The city's latest unemployment figure is 5.2 percent, compared with 7.1 percent nationally.

“Our unemployment has gone up a bit, but it's still on a relative basis, quite low,” Hindman said.  

While the work force may be slightly decreasing, education is a key and stable part to the community of Columbia, CNBC reported in the segment. Forbes ranks Columbia as one of the top 20 cities for K-12 education.

Columbia's well-educated population is another factor in its economic health. More than 50 percent have at least a bachelor's degree and 27 percent have graduate degrees. It ranks No. 13 among cities with a high percent of graduate degrees, according to the U.S. Census.

“Higher education tends to be resistant to downturns,"  Hindman said.  "It may not go up as fast as you might have in a bubble, but it has been really good for Columbia.”

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