When you add up student expenses, professor salaries, research spending and the many other activities happening at the UIC Health Sciences Campus – Rockford, what does it really mean for our economy? Take a peak inside.
Joe Hancox is an important cog in Rockford’s economic engine. But he sees himself as more of an average Joe.
The Quincy, Ill., native is a relative newcomer to town, yet his presence here is already making a meaningful impact.
Hancox is a third-year medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, one of the schools that operates on the UIC Health Sciences Campus-Rockford. While he studies here, Hancox is investing tuition dollars into a local school, its faculty and their work. He and his wife, Owen, rent an apartment, go out to eat, visit local festivals, and explore the landscape at places like the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County.
“It’s awesome to have that sort of resource in our backyards,” says Hancox. “We’re both members of the YMCA, so we try to get there as much as possible. My wife is a member of the Rockford Public Library, and she utilizes it a lot, personally and for work.”
When their families visit from out of town, the crew heads to locally owned restaurants downtown and to destinations like the Nicholas Conservatory and the hotels where loved ones spend the night.
“If they visit next summer, we’d like to take them kayaking on the Rock River,” Hancox says.
Hancox and his fellow students play an important role in the Rockford region’s economic puzzle. Combine student spending on things like tuition, housing and fun with the expenses related to faculty research, operational spending, volunteering and alumni contributions, and you get an infusion of nearly $58.2 million that UIC Health Sciences Campus-Rockford addds to the local economy, according to a report recently released by campus leadership. The economic impact study was conducted by Emsi, an Idaho-based group that uses public and private data to perform economic modeling.
The campus’ impact on the Rockford economy will grow a little larger in 2017, when its College of Medicine-Rockford welcomes, for the first time, first-year medical students. Short-term, their presence requires additional faculty hires and construction jobs related to facility improvements. In the long run, their presence promises to add $33.9 million to the local economy over the next 20 years, according to the report.
“There aren’t many communities of our size, around this country, that have a four-year medical school,” says Dr. Alex Stagnaro-Green, regional dean of the College of Medicine-Rockford. “It should be a source of pride. It should be a source of physicians working in the community. It should be a source of expertise when an organization needs student work.”
The total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies paid by students at the UIC Health Sciences Campus – Rockford in the 2015 fiscal year. Students forewent an estimated $14 million in income they could have earned, had they been working.
Rockford’s medical school campus is unique among colleges in that it’s strictly dedicated to postgraduate work. Founded in 1971, the flagship College of Medicine-Rockford trains nearly 175 students in their second, third and fourth years of school. Most students here earn a doctoral degree; about 60 choose to earn a master’s in medical biotechnology.
Doctoral candidate Hancox is especially interested in the school’s Rural Medical Education Program, in which students learn the nuances of practicing in rural Illinois communities. Students in this program typically get training in smaller health systems just outside of the Rockford region, in places like Dixon, Ill., and southern Illinois.
Rockford’s medical school does far more than train doctors, though. Since 1991, it’s housed a College of Nursing, which elevates practicing nurses to advanced-level positions. About 15 such students graduate each year.
Since 2010, the campus has also housed a College of Pharmacy, which draws together 46 employees and 11 clinical faculty. Pharmacy students serve clinical rotations at nearly 130 sites around Illinois, mostly within this region.
You won’t find dorms on campus. Students are responsible for finding their own housing, buying their own groceries, and funding other expenses during their time in Rockford. They spent an estimated $2.3 million on things like housing, groceries and entertainment during the 2014-15 school year, according to the Emsi study.
What you will find on campus is a growing sense of community and more college-type amenities than in the past.
“Until Dr. Stagnaro-Green arrived, we didn’t really have a campus feel,” says Cynthia Hall, director of public affairs and marketing. “But now, we’ve got a volleyball net outside. We’ve got a basketball court. We partnered recently with the YMCA and now we have a fitness center on campus for students, faculty and staff. We have a market where you can get a healthy lunch, and we’ve partnered with Rockford Roasting Co. They’re here weekdays from 8 to 2, providing coffee and bagels.”
The cost of bringing M1 (first-year) medical students to Rockford.
Changes are coming to the health sciences campus in Rockford. Starting in August, 55 first-year medical students will begin their training here, marking the first time these “M1” students will stay and study in Rockford.
Until now, those first-year students were trained at a sister school in Urbana, Ill., on the main University of Illinois campus. Students then relocated to medical schools in Rockford, Peoria or Chicago to finish their training.
“It’s disruptive for the students to spend one year at one place and three years someplace else,” says Stagnaro-Green. “Some of these students have spouses and children, or significant others. It’s disruptive to them, too.”
The Urbana school is closing this summer, leaving an opportunity for its sister schools to pick up first-year education. Moving M1s to Rockford has the potential to affect the equivalent of 475 jobs over the next 20 years, according to the Emsi study.
“If you bring another $2.2 million into the community, that’s money people will be spending on housing, entertainment, restaurants, laundry and shopping,” says Stagnaro-Green. “We’re going to have a group of individuals who are wonderful citizens and who want to go into medicine to improve the community. They’re going to help financially, they’re going to help the community and they’re going to help build the reputation of Rockford.”
In the shorter term, an estimated $1.9 million will be spent on updating the facility for these M1s. In particular, students will need a gross anatomy lab, where they can study cadavers, and a high-tech learning space where they can work in groups. New technologies will be introduced.
“We’ve also bought a teaching device called an Anatomage table, which is a life-size digital display of a human body,” says Stagnaro-Green. “You can do a whole dissection of a man or woman, and it has the ability to work with thousands of abnormalities, as not everyone’s arteries come off the aorta the same way. You have to be aware of those differences. They’ll also learn about pathologies; what does a tumor look like, and how do you dissect around that?”
Stagnaro-Green expects the school will invest an additional $600,00 to $700,000 in new hires.
“We have to hire about seven or eight faculty members,” he says. “There’ll be a biochemist, a physiologist, an anatomist, a microbiologist, an immunologist, an assistant dean for curriculum, and a director for faculty development.”
The school’s M1 capital campaign is about half-funded, says Stagnaro-Green. In addition to alumni contributions and local pledges, the school has received donations from SwedishAmerican Health System and OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center – two of several area facilities where students work.
Estimated additional income generated in the Rockford region because of research at Rockford’s health sciences campus.
Rockford’s college of medicine isn’t only an institution for training doctors. It’s also a place where groundbreaking research is being led by faculty and assisted by students.
“We do breast cancer research, lung cancer research and prostate cancer research – for example,” says Hall. “We’ve tried to get collaborative efforts with the College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy, so if they have a researcher in the study of cancer and we have a researcher in cancer, we can combine our efforts.”
Performing all this research inevitably incurs economic costs. In employing researchers, purchasing equipment and procuring services, the Rockford campus spent nearly $1.1 million in the 2015 fiscal year. According to the Emsi study, all of that research generated an additional $1.9 million of economic activity in the Rockford region.
Professors who aren’t engaged in research typically run their own medical practices, within local health systems or through the school’s L.P. Johnson Family Health Center, in Rockford.
“We have more than 400 physicians in the community who volunteer for us,” says Hall. “So, they either teach for us for free, or they allow our students to rotate through their practice for free.”
University of Illinois alumni make their own impact on the campus and the local community. Out of the nearly 200 alumni who still live in Winnebago, Boone, Ogle and Stephenson counties, several teach or open their practice to student residents. Economically speaking, these alumni contribute a collective $24.7 million to the local economy, as they invest their higher incomes in buying homes, raising families, purchasing goods and services, and enjoying other pursuits. On average, a graduate from Rockford’s health sciences campus can expect to receive an additional $12.10 in future earnings for every dollar invested in the school, according to the Emsi study.
Because these are high-skill, high-wage jobs, the study also assumes these students and alumni are less likely to impact social services. The study found that, for every dollar invested in the school, society saw about $12.60 in added state revenue and social savings.
Hall warns against reading too much into this statistic, which assumes that people in medical school are less likely to abuse drugs or end up on welfare.
“While Emsi has done this sort of research for other higher education institutes, we’re a little unique in that our alumni’s salary expectations are much higher,” says Hall. “Everyone who graduates here is going to be a doctor, a PharmD or an advanced practice nurse. It’s not like college, where someone graduates and they’re not sure what they’re going to do, so they might start out in retail. Our students’ career paths are much more defined than someone who might do a number of things and see a fluctuating salary during their career.”
Payroll related to medical school residency program in 2015 fiscal year
When he was shopping for medical schools, Hancox found himself attracted to the balance of big school and small campus that exists at College of Medicine – Rockford. As part of the larger University of Illinois, the school enjoys plenty of research resources, he says. But, with just 55 students in his cohort, he also enjoys small class sizes and a personalized education.
Hancox finds that, with fewer students competing for attention, he has more time to interact with patients and physicians during his on-the-job clinical training. The campus’ small size will also give him an edge when he serves residency at one of the Rockford area’s hospitals – a requirement he’ll have to complete after graduation, in order to officially practice medicine.
“It feels like we can make a difference on an individual level,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of people training above us. There aren’t even many students in the area of the hospital where we work, so we get a lot of opportunities to talk with patients one-on-one. It’s that connection to patients and doctors that is really valuable to our education. Being the only medical school here in Rockford, we’re not fighting for training resources.”
Some of Hancox’s classmates will serve their residency at the L.P. Johnson Family Health Center, which is owned and maintained by the college of medicine. According to the Emsi study, that clinic adds about $5.2 million into the local economy and impacts 97 local jobs.
Estimated income added by student volunteerism.
Hancox and his fellow students enjoy volunteering their medical services in the community, when they’re not studying. He occasionally joins health clinics at the St. Elizabeth Community Center, in Rockford, and a student group that serves breakfast at the Rockford Rescue Mission.
“I also do blood pressure checks through an organization called Changing Hearts,” he says. “I check blood pressures for people at a church. The group goes once a month and I try to go every few months. And, my wife is involved through our church, visiting homebound parishoners.”
Amount of student body that relocated to Rockford for school
Mike Nicholas, who until recently served as president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, sees the addition of M1 students at the college of medicine as a good sign for Rockford’s economy. Health care, he believes, is one of the strongest growth sectors in the local economy, and an important pillar alongside aerospace and automotive manufacturing.
“There’s $1.5 billion being invested in Rockford right now, including AAR and Woodward,” he says. “Half of that investment is in health care. It’s becoming one of the region’s biggest industry clusters. To have a medical school in a community where health care is so important – that’s a powerful combination.”
What really excites Nicholas about the school’s economic contribution is that a good portion of its revenue comes from outside the region. Nearly 70 percent of students hail from elsewhere in the state, like Hancox, or from faraway places like China and India.
“These sorts of jobs are bringing new revenues into the region,” says Nicholas. It’s new money, not circulating money, that strengthens an economy.
He believes a strong medical school is also in this region’s interest because it’s a key component to Rockford’s growing center of knowledge, benchmarked by the new Northern Illinois University/Rock Valley College engineering degree program.
“We’ve been building the foundation for a center of knowledge in our region,” Nicholas says. “Maybe in the future, we can even look at things like bioengineering degrees that would draw together the NIU/RVC Engineering with the University of Illinois medical school.”
Estimated number of jobs added by UIC Health Sciences Campus’ economic activity
For now, Stagnaro-Green is preparing for the arrival of next year’s M1 students and celebrating the impact his school is making in the Rockford region. He likens this hidden gem to the popular Jimmy Stewart movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Clarence the angel came down and said, what would be the impact if you didn’t exist?” Stagnaro-Green says. “So, what would be the impact if we didn’t exist? Well, that’d be $58 million less a year that would come to Rockford. With these M1 students, it’d be more than $60 million. We can now show, conclusively, that the UIC Health Sciences Campus – Rockford is making an impact in the community, in terms of finances, housing and the physicians who remain here and work in the community.”