Town Vs Gown ... Problems & Benefits

Yes. Some of them party too often, drink too much, get drunk and disorderly, leave bottles and trash for us to pick up, and, in general, offend their neighbors.

It's the old town and gown problem that every city and town with a college faces sooner or later.

But, frankly, the majority of the 3,000-plus students at Westfield State College are decent young adults, good neighbors, and responsible citizens, in spite of the shortcomings of a few. It is, of course, the latter than make the police logs, and Pulse Lines, and turn us into negative critics of the college.

The college is 160 years old, by the way, and unlikely to disappear into the sunset in the immediate future. So, like it or not, we can continue to tolerate the exuberance of youth, and continue to demand that the college take steps to control their underage population. Which the new president, Fred Woodward, promised to do in his interviews when he sought the job.

Dr. Woodward also pledged to meld community and college ideas and ideals whenever possible. So our residents can enjoy concerts, take classes, earn degrees. Children can enroll in summer programs. The college offers professional development for employers.

And, WSC puts some big bucks into our city.

Some general examples are in order. As one of our biggest employers, the college generates a significant payroll which flows back into the marketplace. The employees buy homes, pay taxes. The college purchases products and services for area contractors, vendors and retailers. Visitors and parents spend their money here, too.

WSC is the largest residential campus in the state system, with two thirds of undergraduates living on campus. The college facilities include five academic buildings, nine resident halls, an art gallery, a 500 seat auditorium, playing fields, the Ferst Interfaith Center, the new administration building acquired from Stanhome, and a beautiful 256 acre campus. All have to be maintained. Which means expenditures.

Some specifics are in order, of course.

Westfield State college employs 1,582 of our neighbors.

WSC spending, measured in terms of salaries and supplies, equipment and utilities, is about $42-million a year. The U. S. Department of Commerce uses regional multipliers to figure out the total spending impact--each dollar of direct spending creates $2 in additional indirect spending, for a $130 million in total college spending, direct and indirect.

College numbers show that the students (3,389 full time undergrads, 805 part time undergrads, and 743 graduate students) spend $1,500 each, or $7.4 million during the academic year. Visitors spend another $5.2 million here.

Okay, bottom line. When all direct and indirect expenditures of the college ($130 million) are combined with student spending ($7.4-million) and visitor spending ($5.2-million), the college's economic impact is $142.6 million.

The college has other impacts on our city. For example, student teachers--about 30 a year work in our public schools. Faculty and staff and class projects provide community services ranging from technical support for the Westfield Police Department and Westfield District Court to surveys and public relations advice for Noble Hospital, co-op projects and internships to fund drives, tutoring, and blood drives.

The campus offers programs for kids (Cheerleader Camp and the Camp for Kids) and oldsters (Elderhostel and computer training).

Yes, positive things are happening, financially, culturally and academically. And the college will continue to grow and prosper. The impact on our neighborhoods will continue, for better and for worse.

And, no, I am not an apologist for the college or the students who live on and off campus.

The offenders of our sensibilities--the beer guzzling, litter tossing, loud and unruly few-- have to learn to be responsible neighbors. And if they cannot learn it on their own, then Dr. Woodward, faculty and staff, will have to step into the spotlight and take on that responsibility. And assume the criticism that will ensue if that responsibility is abrogated.

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