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How much do colleges and universities spend on students?

In 2011–12, more than $488 billion was spent by postsecondary institutions. Total expenses were $306 billion (in current dollars) at public postsecondary institutions, $160 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $23 billion at private for-profit institutions.

Instruction, including faculty salaries and benefits, is the largest expense category at public and private nonprofit postsecondary institutions and the second largest category at private for-profit institutions. At public institutions in 2011–12, some 26 percent of total expenses were spent on instruction, compared with 33 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 24 percent at private for-profit institutions. The largest expense category (67 percent) at private for-profit institutions in that year was student services, academic support, and institutional support, which includes expenses associated with admissions, student activities, libraries, and administrative and executive activities. By comparison, student services, academic support, and institutional support made up 19 percent of total expenses at public institutions and 30 percent of total expenses at private nonprofit institutions. Other relatively large categories at public institutions (i.e., those accounting for 8–10 percent of expenses, not shown in the figure) were research, hospitals, and institutional support. At private nonprofit institutions, some of the other large categories (i.e., those accounting for 8–13 percent of expenses) were institutional support, research, auxiliary enterprises (i.e., self-supporting operations, such as residence halls), hospitals, academic support, and student services.

Percentage of total expenses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by purpose of expenses and control of institution: 2011–12

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

# Rounds to zero.

NOTE: Degree-granting institutions grant associate’s degrees or higher and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs.

In 2011–12, total expenses per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student were much higher at private nonprofit postsecondary institutions ($49,036) than at public institutions ($28,371) and private for-profit institutions ($14,545). Expenses per FTE student are reported in constant 2012–13 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Private nonprofit institutions spent more than twice as much per student on instruction ($16,015) than did public institutions ($7,512). A similar pattern was found for most other expense classifications, such as student services, academic support, and institutional support (a total of $14,791 for private nonprofit institutions vs. $5,443 for public institutions). Expenses per FTE student for public services, such as expenses for public broadcasting and community services, were an exception to this pattern, with public institutions spending more than private nonprofit institutions ($1,109 vs. $716). Expenses per student for instruction were more than twice as high at public institutions as at private for-profit institutions ($7,512 vs. $3,542), but expenses per student for student services, academic support, and institutional support were higher at private for-profit institutions ($9,686) than at public institutions ($5,443).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). The Condition of Education 2014 (NCES 2014-083), Expenses of Postsecondary Institutions.

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education