Feature Article - June 2020
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Trends in Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities


While overall, respondents reported a 19.2% increase to operating expenses from 2018 to 2019, college respondents actually reported a 2.7% decrease, from an average of $2,230,000 in 2018 to $2,170,000 in 2019. Looking forward, they were expecting revenues to increase at a similar pace to all respondents. While the general survey population was anticipating a 5.5% increase from 2019 to 2021, college respondents projected a 5.1% increase, to an average operating expenditure of $2,280,000 in 2021.

On average, college respondents report that they recover 46.7% of their operating costs via revenues, up significantly from 34.5% in 2019. College respondents were more than twice as likely as non-college respondents to report that they cover 10% or less of their cost via revenues: 19.7% of college respondents vs. 9.5% of non-college respondents. Some 38.5% of college respondents said they make up 30% or less of their operating costs with revenues. Another 12.3% recover 31 to 70% of their costs via revenues. And around three in 10 (30.3%) college respondents said they recover at least 71% of their operating costs via revenues.

College respondents were slightly less likely than non-college respondents to report that they've taken action to reduce their operating expenses, though a majority had done so. Some 76.9% of college respondents said they had taken such actions, compared with 81.7% of non-college respondents. This is down from 2019, when 79.1% of college respondents said they had taken such actions.

The most common strategies relied on by college respondents to reduce their operating costs in the 2020 Industry Report Survey include: reducing staff (38% of college respondents had taken this action, compared with 31.1% in 2019); improving energy efficiency (34.7%, down from 43.9% in 2019); cutting programs or services (33.9%); reducing hours of operation (33.1%); and increasing fees (28.9%).

College Facilities

College respondents were more likely to report that they had seen a decrease in the number of people using their facility in 2019. Some 13.7% said that the number of people using their facility was down in 2019 from 2018. Around half (50.8%) said there had been no change, and 35.5% said the number of people using their facilities had increased. (See Figure 48.)

Looking forward, the percentage of college respondents expecting usage to decline falls slightly, with 6.7% expecting a decrease in 2020 and 3.6% anticipating a decrease in 2021. Most college respondents were expecting to see no change in the number of people using their facility in 2020 (54.2%) or 2021 (56.8%), while around four in 10 were expecting to see an increase in 2020 and 2021.

While the number of overall respondents to the Industry Report Survey who said they have plans for construction has grown over the past decade, for college respondents, those numbers have not increased at the same clip. In fact, in 2020, 52.4% of college respondents said they had plans for construction, down from 58% in 2019. This compared with 75.1% of non-college respondents who said they had plans for construction in 2020.