Skip Navigation


How much do colleges and universities spend on students?


In academic year 2012–13, postsecondary institutions spent $499 billion (in current dollars). Total expenses were $311 billion at public institutions, $166 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $22 billion at private for-profit institutions.

Instruction, including faculty salaries and benefits, is the largest single expense category at public and private nonprofit postsecondary institutions and the second largest category at private for-profit institutions. At public institutions in 2012–13, some 27 percent of total expenses were spent on instruction, compared with 33 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 25 percent at private for-profit institutions. The largest expense category (65 percent) at private for-profit institutions in that year was for the combined expenditures of 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 20 percent of total expenses at public institutions and 30 percent of total expenses at private nonprofit institutions. Other large categories of expenses at public institutions (i.e., those accounting for 8-11 percent of expenses) included hospitals, research, and institutional support. At private nonprofit institutions, some of the large categories (i.e., those accounting for 8-14 percent of expenses) were institutional support, research, hospitals, auxiliary enterprises (i.e., self-supporting operations, such as residence halls), academic support, and student services.

Percentage of total expenses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by purpose of expenses and control of institution: 2012–13

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 2012–13, total expenses per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student were much higher at private nonprofit postsecondary institutions ($50,145) than at public institutions ($29,338) and private for-profit institutions ($15,745). Expenses per FTE student are reported here in constant 2013–14 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Private nonprofit institutions spent more than twice as much per student on instruction ($16,432) than did public institutions ($7,814). Similarly, for the combined expenditures of student services, academic support, and institutional support a total of $15,284 was spent at private nonprofit institutions versus $5,767 spent at public institutions. Expenses per FTE student for research and public service, such as expenses for public broadcasting and community services, followed the same pattern, with private nonprofit institutions spending more than public institutions ($6,006 vs. $3,935). Expenses per FTE student for instruction were more than twice as high at public institutions as at private for-profit institutions ($7,814 vs. $3,893), but expenses per FTE student for student services, academic support, and institutional support were higher at private for-profit institutions ($10,303) than at public institutions ($5,767).

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-144), Expenses of Postsecondary Institutions.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)