Feature Article - June 2013
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Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities

Public universities and colleges in nearly every state have seen their state funding decline sharply, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Nationwide, states are, on average, spending 28 percent less in 2013 than they did in 2008, a decrease of $2,353 per student. As a result, colleges and universities have had to raise tuitions, make changes that undermine educational quality, or both.

Some 36 states have cut funding by more than 20 percent, with 11 states cutting funding by more than one-third. This is part of a larger trend, in which for 25 years or so, state and local funding for higher education has been dropping and tuition has been on the rise, the Center reports. This trend has meant that, over time, students have assumed much greater responsibility for paying for public higher education.

Prior to the recession, this did not have a great impact on colleges' and universities' plans for their recreational, sports and fitness offerings. If anything, colleges used the time to create fantastic facilities to attract more students to their campuses. But the past several years have seen a slight contraction in these types of plans.

The largest group of college and university respondents to the 2013 Industry Report survey came from the Midwest. Nearly three in 10 (29.4 percent) college respondents indicated they were from the Midwest. Slightly less than a fifth were from the South Central region (19.8 percent), the South Atlantic region (19.2 percent) or the Northeast (18.5 percent). The smallest number of college respondents—11.8 percent—came from the West.

Colleges were more likely to report that they were located in urban communities than other facility types. While 26 percent of all respondents were from urban areas, 38.2 percent of college respondents were located in urban communities. Another 31.2 percent were from suburban areas, and 30.6 percent were from rural communities.

A majority of college respondents indicated that they worked for public universities—61.8 percent. More than one-third said they worked for private, nonprofit schools (34.1 percent), and 3.2 percent said they worked for private for-profit schools.

On average, college respondents report that they manage 3.5 facilities. They were much more likely than non-college respondents to indicate that they managed three or fewer facilities. Nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) of college respondents said they manage three or fewer facilities, compared with just 56.7 percent of non-college respondents.

College respondents were slightly less likely than their counterparts from other facilities to indicate that they formed partnerships with other organizations. While 85.8 percent of non-college respondents form such partnerships, 82.6 percent of college respondents do so. The primary partners college and university respondents work with include other colleges and universities (59.4 percent of college respondents partner with them). By comparison, only 29 percent of non-college respondents partner with colleges and universities. Other relatively common partners for college respondents include local schools (34.5 percent) and state government (31.6 percent).

Revenues & Expenditures

The percentage of college respondents who reported increasing revenue year-over-year fell from 2011 to 2012. From 2010 to 2011, slightly less than one-third (32.8 percent) of college respondents said their revenues had increased. And from 2011 to 2012, just 27.7 percent reported an increase in revenue. At the same time, more college respondents said their revenues had held steady. While 55.7 percent said revenues remained unchanged from 2010 to 2011, some 65 percent said revenues remained unchanged from 2011 to 2012. The number who expect a decrease in revenues increases slightly in 2013, from 7.3 percent who saw a decrease from 2011 to 2012 to 8.3 percent who project a decrease from 2012 to 2013. (See Figure 44.)

College respondents were among those reporting the steepest declines in their average yearly operating expenditures from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012. They reported a 15 percent decrease, from $1,490,000 in fiscal 2011 to $1,267,000 in fiscal 2012, compared with the 6.2 percent decrease seen across the board. Despite the fact that all respondents expect operating expenditures to rise in fiscal 2013, college respondents actually reported a further decline of 0.6 percent, to an average of $1,260,000. By fiscal 2014, college respondents project their operating expenditures will begin to increase again. From fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2014, college respondents project an increase of 3.7 percent in operating expenditures, slightly less than the 4.1 percent increase expected among all respondents.

At the same time, colleges were less likely than others to report that they had taken any action to reduce their operating expenses. While 86.3 percent of all respondents had taken action to reduce expenditures, 76.1 percent of college respondents reported they had done so. The most common actions taken among college respondents included improving energy efficiency (43.7 percent of college respondents had taken action to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities), reducing staff (31.4 percent), and increasing fees (28.5 percent). More than a quarter also reported that they had reduced their hours of operation (26.9 percent) or put their construction or renovation plans on hold (25.6 percent.)