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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

NACUBO Releases 2010 Student Financial Services Initiative Benchmarking Results

February 14, 2011

NACUBO has released the 2010 Student Financial Services (SFS) Benchmarking Report, which is based on the results of surveys conducted in spring of 2009 and 2010.  The report provides comparative data on several key measures of the SFS operations (the campus office with responsibility for managing student accounts and related functions) at all types of higher education institutions. As part of this initiative, beginning in 2009, NACUBO began to survey bursars and other financial services staff members at two- and four-year public and private nonprofit colleges and universities. Survey participants were asked to provide information on student account and loan receivables, credit balance refunds, third-party payments, and staffing and expenditures for student financial services.

Key Trends in Student Unpaid Balances, Payment Methods, and SFS Staffing

The report reveals several trends in student financial services, particularly unpaid balances and student payment methods. On average, participating institutions reported that 26 percent of their students had an unpaid balance at the end of FY09, up two percentage points from the year before.  These results vary by type of institution; the share of students with unpaid balances held steady at 23 percent at small institutions, but increased from 25 percent to 32 percent at research universities. However, students may have unpaid balances for such a wide variety of reasons, such as library fines or other charges incurred late in the year, that the number of accounts placed in collections may be a better measure of how much trouble the institution is having collecting amounts owed by students. Overall, for both FY08 and FY09, 5 percent of student accounts were placed in collection. Community colleges reported the highest average rate, while small institutions reported the lowest.

More telling are the differences by institutional type in the dollar volume of student account payments institutions received through various payment channels. In FY09, about 70 percent of student account payments at small institutions and 66 percent at community colleges were processed manually, compared with 48 percent at comprehensive institutions and 33 percent at research universities. In contrast, 47 percent of student account dollars paid to research universities and 40 percent to comprehensive/doctoral institutions, respectively, came in over the Internet, versus 28 percent for community colleges and 19 percent for small institutions.

Manually processing student payments tends to be labor intensive; as such, the difference in the uses of manual versus electronic means of collecting student payments may contribute to the differences in the expenditures per student in financial services.  In FY09, small institutions spent $235 per full-time student on student financial services, compared with $81 at research universities and $76 at comprehensive institutions. Community colleges reported per-student SFS expenditures of $123 in FY09, down considerably from $189 the previous year. This is likely the result of growing enrollments as well as decreases in staff size. 

While the total number of responding institutions is small (149 for FY08 and 153 for FY09), the overall survey results do indicate some important differences in student financial services operations, payment methods, and workloads by constituent group. Small institutions appear to have larger staff sizes on a per-student basis, and appear to use more manual payment processing and student credit balance refund methods than research or comprehensive/doctoral universities. The results also suggest that while the share of students with unpaid balances at the end of the fiscal year is large, the typical amounts of such balances account for a relatively small share of total student account receivables and do not constitute a major financial drain for institutions.

Access to the NACUBO SFS Benchmarking Tool

NACUBO-member institutions that participated in the 2010 SFS Benchmarking Survey will soon have complimentary access to the SFS Benchmarking Tool. This tool, developed by NACUBO and the Exeter Group using IBM/Cognos Business Intelligence software, allows staff at participating institutions to create customized reports and compare their SFS indicators against national averages and a self-selected peer group. More information about this new product is available at the NACUBO Web site.  A complimentary copy of the SFS benchmarking report is also available on the NACUBO Web site.

For additional information about the SFS report and the benchmarking initiative, please contact the NACUBO research staff. All member institutions are encouraged to participate in the 2011 survey, which will be available later this spring.


Natalie Pullaro Davis
Manager, Research and Policy Analysis