Feature Article - June 2021
Find a printable version here

Trends in Colleges & Universities

A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities


In this section, we'll examine the trends reported by college and university respondents to the Industry Report survey, who made up 13.6% of respondents, up from 9.5% of survey respondents in 2020.

College respondents were slightly more geographically diverse, when compared with other groups of respondents. The largest number of them—25.7%—were from the South Atlantic region. Another 23.5% were from the Midwest, while 21.9% were from the Northeast. Smaller numbers were located in the South Central region (15%) and in the West (13.9%).

College respondents were most likely to report from suburban or urban communities. Some 39.2% said they were located in a suburban community, while 37.6% said they were located in an urban community. Just 23.1% said they were in a rural area.

On average, college respondents said they reach a population of 32,110 people, down from 55,550 in 2020, but still above 2019's average of 22,420. College respondents were much more likely than non-college respondents to report that they reach a population of 20,000 or fewer, while being much less likely to reach 100,000 or more. Nearly three-quarters (74.3%) of college respondents said they serve populations of 20,000 or fewer people, compared with 40.4% of non-college respondents. On the other hand, just 5.3% of college respondents said they reach an audience of 100,000 or more, compared with 23.4% of non-college respondents.

Nearly two-thirds (64.9%) of college respondents said they were with public colleges and universities. Another 28.7% were with private nonprofit schools, while 6.4% said they were with private, for-profit schools.

On average, respondents from colleges and universities manage 3.7 facilities, down from 5.1 in 2020. They were far more likely to manage three or fewer facilities, while being unlikely to manage 10 or more. Nearly two-thirds (66.3%) of college respondents said they manage one to three facilities. This compares with 58.4% of non-college respondents. On the other hand, while 5.9% of college respondents said they manage 10 or more facilities, 17.2% of non-college respondents said they manage 10 or more.

Respondents from colleges and universities were slightly less likely than others to report that they had partnered with other organizations. Some 86.4% of college respondents said they had formed such partnerships, up from 83.5% in 2020. This compares with 88.2% of non-college respondents. College respondents were far more likely to report that they had partnered with other colleges and universities. In fact, nearly two-thirds (65.2%) of college respondents said they had partnered with other colleges and universities, compared with just 31.3% of non-college respondents. At least a quarter of college respondents had also partnered with: local schools (38.6%); state government (35.3%); local government (27.7%); and nonprofit organizations (25%).

Revenues & Expenditures

Over the past several years, college respondents have been less likely than non-college respondents to report increases in their revenues. And in 2020, a year when few respondents in general saw increasing revenues, college respondents were by far the least likely to report that their revenues had increased. Only 2.7% of college respondents said their revenues had increased in 2020, compared with 15.1% of non-college respondents. Another 35.2% of college respondents said their revenues had remained the same, while 62.1% reported a decrease.

College respondents also seem to expect a slower return to normal, with just 16.6% expecting revenues to increase in 2021, while 44.2% expect revenues to remain the same and 39.2% projected a further decrease. Looking forward, 39.8% of college respondents are expecting higher revenues in 2022, with 46% expecting revenues to remain the same and 14.2% expecting a decrease. (See Figure 49.)

College respondents reported a much steeper drop in their average operating costs from 2019 to 2020, compared with the general survey population. While overall, respondents reported a 12% decrease in operating expenses from 2019 to 2020, college respondents reported a 25.8% drop, from an average of $2,170,000 to $1,610,000.

Looking forward, college respondents were expecting a slight, 2.5% increase to operating expenses in 2021, to an average of $1,650,000. This is followed by a 3.6% increase in 2022, to an average of $1,710,000—still 21.2% less than the average for 2019.