Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tripp Umbach

(U of M PR firm)

Fesses Up over Indiana U "Report"

[See an earlier discussion of the Tripp Umbach economic impact study for the U of M in Another Fine Mess (Academic Facilities).]


Officials at Indiana University recently presented some impressive numbers concerning the school’s economic impact on the state — $4.9 billion to be exact, and $6.6B from its health programs. But independent experts claim the numbers don’t add up. In fact, according to Vanderbilt economist John Siegfried they’re “ridiculous to the extent of being really embarrassing for an institution supposedly dedicated to seeking truth and knowledge.”
Ouch. Siegfried goes even further to say the number is “so high that if it is true, Indiana should be investing in nothing except colleges and universities.”
Another number to consider is the $75,000 IU paid the economics consulting firm Tripp Umbach to conduct the study and 59-page report responsible for the unusual statistics. The firm’s CEO Paul Umbach attempted to clear up the issue by stating the reports are “public relations documents, and they’re designed to be that way,” also noting that the company’s reports are not peer-reviewed, nor are they meant to be published in academic journals. The report, according to Umbach, “exists as a communication tool” to advertise the school’s importance to the state. “It’s not going to win a Nobel Prize.”
In terms of specific errors, the report claimed that for every dollar Indiana taxpayers invest in IU, they receive a return of $24.91. But Peter McHenry, an assistant professor of economics at William and Mary, says the number is misleading since state tax dollars typically go to the school but not its hospitals, where much of the impact is credited.
At a recent news conference, Umbach defended the analysis by saying that the IU School of Medicine faculty is a “driver of a lot of the economic impact” in the report and hailed IU as a “national model” for the way it has interlaced its clinical and academic research. Umbach’s company has done similar reports for a number of public universities including Penn State, the University of Iowa, and the University of Washington. He says that IU’s impact was one of the more impressive he’s ever seen.
While McHenry doesn’t deny the importance of IU or its hospitals, he is still skeptical of the numbers, and of the return-on-investment number in particular. “If we’re making decisions based on that kind of number,” Mchnery adds, “then we’ve misled the public and misused public funds.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star

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