Michigan’s 15 public universities are key employers and economic drivers in the state, responsible for more than 120,000 jobs, and with spending and earnings accounting for $23.9 billion in economic activity, according to a new report.

The universities collectively support more than $12 billion in earnings in Michigan in 2012, says the report from the Anderson Economic Group commissioned by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. The 1.3 million alumni living in the state earned $47 billion in wages and salaries in 2012, the report says.

With more than 300,000 students, Michigan ranks sixth among the states in public university enrollment, despite being ninth in population. Enrollment grew 5 percent from 2003 to 2012, despite a shrinking state population and major cuts in state support per student. Annual degree completions increased even faster, by 13 percent-16 percent for bachelor degree completion.

“This report shows our universities are important contributors to jobs and prosperity in our state,” said Glenn D. Mroz, president of Michigan Technological University and chairman of PSCUM. “Whether it’s the salaries earned by professors, our investment in new buildings needed to keep up with student demand, or the earnings of our graduates, it’s clear that public universities are vital to every one of Michigan’s 83 counties.”

Michael Boulus, executive director of the council, said the report — which has county-by-county detail of enrollment, spending and alumni residency — shows that Michigan universities drive local economies in many ways.

“Whether it’s the investment of Wayne State in student housing spurring growth in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, alumni creating jobs in Marquette, research at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor encouraging entrepreneurial professors to create new companies, or new classroom facilities in downtown Grand Rapids boosting that city’s attraction to young talent, Michigan’s investment in higher education pays off all over our state,” Boulus said.

“Michigan’s universities are partners with local businesses in so many ways. We hope this report will remind lawmakers that investing in higher education is investing in the state’s economy.”

Among the highlights of the report:

• Of $4.5 billion in university non-payroll spending, $1.4 billion — 32 percent —  went toward construction in 2012, providing employment in that vital industry while ensuring adequate facilities for students and researchers. Other major categories for non-payroll spending were hospital services ($766 million), plant operations and maintenance ($546 million) and research ($407 million).

“Many people don’t realize that universities use machine shops to build specialized equipment for research, hire local carpet companies to replace worn rugs, and employ nurses, clerks and physicians at hospitals,” said Boulus. “Without universities, those companies and workers would face difficult times.”

• The 1.3 million alumni of Michigan public universities living in Michigan represent more than 61 percent of those with a four-year degree, and earned a total of $47 billion in salaries and wages in 2012.

• Enrollment at the state’s 15 public universities has increased from 287,864 in 2002-03 to 301,470 in 2011-12, a 5 percent increase. Degrees and certificates earned increased from 59,414 to 66,947 over that period, a 13 percent increase; the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded grew by more than 16 percent.

• Young talent from across the nation — actually, across the globe — was attracted to the high-quality education offered by Michigan’s universities. Top states delivering students to Michigan were Illinois (5,775), Ohio (3,201), California (3,140), New York (2,799) and Wisconsin (1,827). Top nations were China, India, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

• Worldwide, Michigan public universities have 2.1 million living alumni, with 1.3 million living in Michigan, about 18 percent of the state’s population 22 and older.  Top states for alumni other than Michigan were California (88,249), Illinois (71,891), Florida (62,594) and New York (41,757). (The report contains student enrollment and alumni numbers for every county in Michigan.)

The Economic Footprint report complements the extensive data now available through the Business Leaders of Michigan performance tracker, which offers comparisons of Michigan universities to their peers around the nation on key metrics including enrollment, time to degree, research and development and other factors.

“We have been asked by policymakers to be accountable and transparent before they will make major investments in our higher education system, which has suffered disproportionately from state budget cuts in the last decade,” Boulus said. “This is another tool we can use to show our commitment to being open about university impact on Michigan.

“We will be using this report as we call on Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers to realize that investing in higher education will not only help universities control tuition increases, it will also benefit communities around the state in creating more and better jobs.”