What Amazon's new campus might mean for colleges

Kristin Tyndall, editorKristin Tyndall, Senior Editor

In September, Amazon announced that it plans to build a second headquarters—and it's searching for the right city to build in.

The announcement kicked off a bidding war between cities. Amazon ultimately received 238 proposals from locations that spanned North America. Winning would be "akin to winning the lottery," says Steve Glickman, cofounder and executive director of the Economic Innovation Group. Colleges in the area will probably be "ecstatic to have them move in," says Mary Lou Moffat, placement-center director at Seattle University's business school.

In their announcement, Amazon outlined a few things it's looking for in its new city:

  • Population size: Amazon is likely to prioritize cities with more than one million people.
  • Space: Amazon is prioritizing locations with existing buildings. Does your city have 8 million square feet to spare?
  • Workforce: Amazon asks that all bids should include a detailed list of higher education offerings as well as information on computer-science programs in K-12 education systems.
  • Transit: Amazon is, at its core, a logistics company and is therefore seeking a home base with a robust transit system, including easy commutes for their employees and quick access to an international airport.
  • Incentives, capital, and culture: Naturally, Amazon is hoping suitors will find tax and capital incentives to sweeten the deal. But they're also looking for a place their employees are excited to work and live.

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Based on analyst predictions and current higher ed trends, here are some of the changes that might be in store for colleges and universities near the site of Amazon's new headquarters.

50,000 high-quality jobs

One of the most readily apparent effects for colleges is that the new headquarters is likely to create a boom in opportunities for jobs, internships, and training pipelines.

Amazon estimates the new headquarters will generate about 50,000 jobs—with average compensation expected to exceed $100,000 per year—at one of the most desirable employers in the United States. Gen Z students rated Amazon as the No. 11 company they want to work for in a recent survey.

"People often just count the number of jobs, but not the quality... These are high-quality, high-paying jobs. That is a huge benefit," says Nathan Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Also see: Help students translate academic experiences into resume-speak

And even more jobs could open up if the new headquarters attract other businesses, such as other tech companies, or if Amazon employees leave the company to start their own businesses in the city.

Large companies tend to favor local graduates in hiring. For example, 6.5% of Microsoft employees attended the University of Washington (UW)—both the company and the university are based in Seattle. Similarly, 16.1% of Snap Inc. employees and 5.4% of Google employees are graduates of Stanford University. Amazon also ranks No. 10 among companies in the United States in terms of number of interns hired.

Based on Amazon's current hiring trends, the company may be planning to hire not only bachelor's degree holders, but also people with advanced degrees. Amazon has hired nearly 500 Ph.D.s in 2017 alone, outpacing the faculty hiring at any college or university in the United States, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported in October.

And the jobs aren't just for computer science grads, either. Last year, Amazon hires included UW graduates with bachelor's degrees in English, psychology, astronomy, and history, as well as graduate degrees in law, linguistics, and public affairs.

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The size of the impact will depend on the size of the job market in the winning city, experts say. "The smaller the town, the bigger the impact. In a city like New York with over 8 million people, the impact won't be as dramatic as a Danbury, Connecticut, as an example," said Rob Adams, director of Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Housing and transportation

One of the potential downsides is that housing prices and other costs of living are predicted to rise in the winning city. Rental catalog site Apartment List estimates rents in the location will rise 2% per year, on top of normal price increases.

In Seattle, the location of Amazon's current headquarters, housing prices increased 13.5% over last year. Amazon employees also add traffic to the roads and public transit, officials say. Seattle needed to add extra buses to transport thousands of interns that descended on the city during the summer of 2017.

The cost of housing has risen so much in one tech hub, the San Francisco Bay Area, that faculty members at local colleges and universities have largely been priced out of places to live. Officials at two local universities told the Chronicle of Higher Education in May that they'd seen applicants decline job offers because of the lack of affordable housing options (Gutman, Seattle Times, 6/22; Yurieff/Riley, CNN, 9/7; Yurieff/Horowitz, CNN, 10/27; Basken, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/03).


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