Feature Article - June 2019
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Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities


Revenues & Expenditures

College respondents were less likely to report that their revenues had increased from 2017 to 2018 than non-college respondents. Some 28.5 percent of college respondents said their revenues had increased in that time frame, compared with 43.9 percent of non-college respondents. At the same time, 17.4 percent of college respondents reported a decrease in revenue, compared with 11.1 percent of non-college respondents.

The percentage of college respondents who reported both increasing and decreasing revenues has grown over the past three years, from 23 percent reporting an increase and 12.4 percent reporting a decrease in 2016, to 28.5 percent reporting an increase and 17.4 percent reporting a decrease in 2018. (See Figure 45.)

Looking forward, college respondents are slightly more likely to expect their revenues to increase over the next two years, though less than one-third are projecting an increase. In 2019, 30.5 percent of college respondents said they expect revenues to be higher than the previous year, while 14.2 percent expect them to be lower. And in 2020, 31.6 percent expect higher revenues, while 10.3 percent are anticipating revenues to be lower.

While all respondents reported a 1.1 percent increase to operating expenses from 2017 to 2018, college respondents saw a 15.5 percent increase, from an average of $1,930,000 in 2017 to $2,230,000 in 2018.

However, looking forward, college respondents projected a 1.3 percent decline in operating costs from 2018 to 2020, from $2,230,000 to $2,200,000 in 2020. This compares with a 3.8 percent increase in average operating costs for all respondents.

On average, college respondents report that they recover 34.5 percent of their operating costs via revenue, up from 33.5 percent in 2018. Colleges and universities, as well as schools and school districts, have the lowest cost-recovery rate of the facility types covered by the survey. They were more likely than non-college respondents to report that they cover 10 percent or less of their cost via revenues: 17.9 percent of college respondents vs. 11.8 percent of non-college respondents. More than half (52.4 percent) of college respondents said they recover 30 percent or less of their operating costs via revenues. Another 8.3 percent recover between 31 percent and 50 percent of their operating costs. Some 6.2 percent earn back between 51 percent and 70 percent of their operating costs. And 17.9 percent of college respondents said they recover at least 71 percent of their operating costs via revenue. (Another 15.2 percent don't know what percentage of their operating costs are recovered via revenues.)

Whereas the percentage of respondents overall who have taken action to reduce their operating expenses has fallen somewhat over the past few years, the percentage of college respondents who had taken such action increased from 76.2 percent in 2018 to 79.1 percent in 2019. This compares with a slight decline for non-college respondents, with 81 percent taking action in 2018 and 80.5 percent taking action in 2019. The most common strategies used by college respondents to reduce their operating expenses include: improving energy efficiency (43.9 percent of college respondents have taken this action, up from 40.9 percent in 2018); reducing staff (31.1 percent); reducing hours of operation (28.4 percent); increasing fees (27 percent, up from 22.6 percent in 2018); and putting construction and renovation plans on hold (27 percent, up from 22.6 percent in 2018).

College respondents were nearly twice as likely as non-college respondents to report that they had reduce their hours of operation. Some 28.4 percent of college respondents said they had cut their hours, compared with 15 percent of non-college respondents. They were also more likely to report that they had cut programs and services. Some 23.6 percent of college respondents said they had cut programs and services, compared with 17.2 percent of non-college respondents.