A Look at Trends in Colleges & Universities

Colleges & Universities

Even as the economic recovery finds more solid ground, higher education funding is still below pre-recession levels in almost all states, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Many colleges and universities have had to raise tuition and cut spending in order to cope with these funding issues.

In the past year, however, most states have begun to restore some of the cuts made to higher education funding, the CBPP reports. Spending is up by about 7 percent on average, or $450 per student, among states that have increased higher education funding. But states are still spending 23 percent less per student nationwide than they did in 2008. Some 37 states have cut per-student funding by more than 20 percent since the start of the recession, and per-student funding in Arizona, Louisiana and South Carolina is down by more than 40 percent in this period.

In addition to tuition increases, public colleges and universities have looked for other ways to make up for the revenue loss that comes of state funding cuts, including cutting faculty positions, eliminating course offerings, closing campuses, shutting computer labs, reducing library services and more.

For many colleges and universities, sports and recreation offerings are a way to attract students to campus. While the rush of construction that took place in the early 2000s seems to have contracted, there are still plenty of projects in planning and under construction that reinforce the belief that outstanding student life and sports facilities can make a big difference.

The largest group of college and university respondents to the 2014 Industry Report survey came from the Midwest. Some 31.1 percent of college respondents indicated they were from the Midwest. The next largest group—at 19.6 percent—represented the South Central states. They were followed by the Northeast (17.1 percent), the South Atlantic (15.4 percent) and the West (15.4 percent).

College respondents were much more likely to report that they were located in urban communities than other respondents. While 25.3 percent of all respondents were located in urban areas, 37.1 percent of college respondents were in urban communities. They were less likely than other survey respondents to be located in suburban and rural communities. Some 32.4 percent of college respondents were in suburban communities, and 30.5 percent were in rural areas.

A majority of college respondents—60.2 percent—indicated that they worked for public organizations. Another 36.3 percent said they worked for private nonprofit facilities, and just 3.5 percent said they were with private, for-profit organizations.

On average, college respondents reported that they manage 3.8 facilities, much lower than the average for all facility types of 6.4 In fact, colleges were much more likely to report that they managed between one and three facilities than non-college respondents. Some 69.6 percent of college respondents said they managed from one to three facilities, compared with 55.6 percent of non-college respondents.

College respondents were less likely than others to report that they formed partnerships with outside organizations. While 85.5 percent of non-college respondents form such partnerships, only 76.6 percent of college respondents do so. The primary partners for colleges and universities include other colleges and universities (52.7 percent of college respondents partner with them); local schools (34.1 percent); state government (26.4 percent); local government (22 percent); and nonprofit organizations (19.5 percent).

Revenues & Expenditures

The number of college and university respondents reporting that revenues decreased year over year increased slightly from 2012 to 2013. While 7.3 percent said revenues were lower in 2012 than in 2011, 8 percent said revenues were lower in 2013 than in 2012. Looking forward, 8.4 percent expect revenues to be lower in 2014 than in 2013. By 2015, that number falls to 6.8 percent, and more than one-third of respondents projected revenues would increase from 2014 to 2015. The majority of college respondents expect revenues to remain steady year-over-year in the time period covered by the survey. (See Figure 45.)

After reporting a steep 15 percent decline in operating expenditures from 2011 to 2012, college respondents saw their operating expenses grow a bit again in fiscal 2013. The average operating cost of $1,332,000 for colleges in fiscal 2013 is 5.1 percent higher than the average in 2012 of $1,267,000. College respondents also project a much steeper increase in operating expenditures over the next two years. While for all respondents, operating expenditures are expected to increase 4.1 percent from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2015, from $1,456,000 to $1,515,000, college and university respondents are expecting a 14.2 percent increase from $1,267,000 to $1,447,000.

College respondents are among those least likely to report that they had taken action to reduce expenditures. While 82.4 percent of non-college respondents said they had taken action to reduce their operating costs, just 75.1 percent of college respondents had done so. They were more likely than others to report that they had reduced their hours of operation. Some 23.1 percent of college respondents had done so vs. 20.1 percent of all respondents. Other common actions taken among college respondents include improving energy efficiency (42.6 percent), reducing staff levels (30.3 percent), increasing fees (28.9 percent) and putting construction and renovation plans on hold (21.4 percent).

College Facilities

Slightly fewer college respondents reported that the number of people using their facilities had increased from 2012 to 2013 compared with 2011 to 2012. While 52.6 percent said usage had increased from 2011 to 2012, 49.7 percent said usage had increased from 2012 to 2013. The number falls further, to 48.7 percent, from 2013 to 2014, and 47.6 percent from 2014 to 2015. (See Figure 46.)

As with most of the respondents to the survey, an increasing number of college respondents reported that they had plans for construction over the next three years. In 2011, just 53.6 percent of college respondents had such plans. That number has risen steadily over the past couple of years, and in 2014, 60.4 percent of college respondents have construction plans. The greatest increase was seen in those who have plans for new construction, which jumped from just 19.7 percent in 2013 to 30.6 percent in 2014. The number who expect to add to or renovate existing facilities was more steady year over year. In 2014, 26 percent of college respondents said they were planning to add to existing facilities, and 40.9 percent have plans for renovations. (See Figure 47.)

College respondents are still among the biggest spenders when it comes to their construction plans. In 2014, college respondents are planning to spend 105.3 percent more than all respondents on their construction plans, with an average construction budget of $9,229,000. College respondents also have seen their average construction budget grow more rapidly than other respondents. While among all respondents, construction budgets grew by 14 percent from 2011 to 2014, for college respondents construction budgets grew by 20.2 percent from $7,681,000 in 2011 to $9,229,000 in 2014.

There is very little change over the past few years in the types of features most commonly found in college respondents' facilities. The top 10 features currently included are: fitness centers; locker rooms; indoor sports courts such as volleyball and basketball courts; exercise studio rooms; bleachers and seating; classrooms and meeting rooms; natural turf sports fields; indoor tracks; outdoor sports courts; and indoor aquatic facilities. Concession stands, which appeared on the list in 2013, were replaced by indoor tracks.

College respondents were slightly less likely than others to report that they had plans to add more features at their facilities over the next three years. While 37.6 percent of all respondents had plans to add features, 32 percent of colleges had such plans. What's more, the number of college respondents who had plans to add features fell from 37.6 percent in 2013 to 32 percent in 2014.

Their most commonly planned features include:

  1. Synthetic turf sports fields for sports like football, soccer and baseball (planned by 33.1 percent of those who intend to add features at their facilities)
  2. Exercise studio rooms (22.9 percent)
  3. Locker rooms (22 percent)
  4. Fitness centers (21.2 percent)
  5. Concession areas (16.9 percent)
  6. Indoor sports courts for sports like basketball and volleyball (16.1 percent)
  7. Indoor running tracks (15.3 percent)
  8. Outdoor sports courts (13.6 percent)
  9. Classrooms and meeting rooms (13.6 percent)
  10. Climbing walls (13.6 percent)

The greatest increase was seen in the number of college respondents who are planning to add synthetic turf sports fields, which jumped from 27.1 percent in 2013 to 33.1 percent in 2014. There were also increases in the number of college respondents planning to add exercise studio rooms (up 0.9 percent); locker rooms (up 0.8 percent) and indoor sports courts (up 0.8 percent). Concessions, indoor tracks and outdoor sports courts did not appear on the top 10 last year. They replace bleachers and challenge courses.


Fitness continues to hold its place as the No. 1 program found among college respondents' facilities. More than three-quarters (78.9 percent) of college respondents include fitness programming at their facilities. More than half of college respondents also provide: mind-body/balance programs such as yoga and tai chi (64 percent) and educational programs (52.8 percent). Other programs commonly found among college respondents include: personal training (47.4 percent); adult sports teams (47.4 percent); sports tournaments and races (46.3 percent); individual sports activities such as running clubs or swim clubs (44.4 percent); swimming programs (44.4 percent); aquatic exercise programs (39.3 percent); and day camps and summer camps (36.9 percent).

Each of these programs was offered by a smaller percentage of college respondents in 2014 than in 2013.

College respondents were less likely than others to report that they had plans to add programs at their facilities over the next three years. While 30.3 percent of non-college respondents will be adding programs, just 19 percent of college respondents have such plans. This also is a drop from 2013, when 28 percent of college respondents had plans for new programs at their facilities.

The top 10 planned program additions for college and university respondents include:

  1. Fitness programs (up from No. 4)
  2. Personal training (up from No. 5)
  3. Nutrition and diet counseling (up from No. 6)
  4. Mind-body balance programs such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates (down from No. 1)
  5. Day camps and summer camps (down from No. 2)
  6. Educational programs (down from No. 3)
  7. Sports tournaments and races (no change from 2012)
  8. Water sports such as kayaking and canoeing (did not appear in 2012)
  9. Sport-specific training (down from No. 8)
  10. Aquatic exercise programs (down from No. 9)

Colleges and universities have increasingly turned their focus to wellness, and that may be reflected in the top four planned programs, three of which saw their position jump from 2012. Individual sports activities fell off the list this year, to be replaced, interestingly enough, by water sports such as kayaking and canoeing.

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