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New Report Details Shifts in Higher Education Enrollment, Revenue, and Expenditures

September 20, 2011

The past decade has seen widening gaps in higher education enrollments and spending by institutional sectors. During this period, community colleges have enrolled an increasing share of undergraduate students but have gotten a lower share of revenue than any other sector, according to “Trends in College Spending, 1999–2009” from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability. In fact, community colleges saw the greatest increase in total enrollments, expanding by over 1.6 million students. However, their spending per full-time equivalent (FTE) student remained virtually unchanged in inflation-adjusted dollars during this period. On the other hand, private non-profit research universities saw their enrollments increase by less than 200,000 students, but their spending per FTE jumped nearly $8,000.

In 2009, community colleges enrolled 6.5 million students—over one-third of all students who attended U.S. higher education institutions. Yet these schools spent about $10,000 per FTE student annually, an amount less than any other type of college or university. In contrast, private non-profit research universities enrolled about 1 million students, but spent $35,000 per FTE, the highest of any sector.

These trends reflect the negative effects of the 2001 and 2008 economic recessions, which forced many states to reduce their expenditures for public higher education, while at the same time more students were enrolling in these schools for job retraining and other purposes. With state budgets continuing to face major stress, it is very likely these trends will worsen in the coming years.

Tuition Compared with Appropriations and Spending

The Delta Project report also compared changes in spending with shifts in tuition prices, state and local government appropriations, and education-related spending. At community colleges, revenues from state and local appropriations declined an average of $488 per student between 2008 and 2009. Increases in tuition and fee charges, however, increases generated new net revenue of only $113 per student. And institutional spending on education-related expenditures (academic instruction and support) per FTE declined overall by $254 in this one-year time span.

At four-year public research universities, average net tuition and fee revenue increased by $369 per student, while state and local appropriations per student fell $751, Despite that, these institutions increased education-related spending by $92 per student, which suggests that they were drawing on other sources (such as fundraising) to support students. Private research universities increased their spending on education-related functions by a considerably larger amount than they increased tuition and fee revenue ($907 in spending per student, compared with $293 in tuition revenue per student), which suggests that they were drawing on other sources (such as endowment spending and fundraising) to support students. These data suggests that all sectors of higher education became much more dependent on tuition and fees and other non-governmental sources of revenue to support their students and campus operations.

Copies of the report are available from the Delta Project Web site.

Contact

Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis
202.861.2527
E-mail