How much do colleges and universities spend on students?
In academic year 2014–15, postsecondary institutions in the United States spent $536 billion (in current dollars). Total expenses were $336 billion at public institutions, $182 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $18 billion at private for-profit institutions. Some data may not be comparable across institutions by control categories (i.e., public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit) because of differences in accounting standards.
Instruction, including faculty salaries and benefits, was the largest single expense category at public and private nonprofit postsecondary institutions in 2014–15, accounting for 27 percent of total expenses at public institutions and 32 percent of total expenses at private nonprofit institutions. The largest expense category at private for-profit institutions in that year was for the combined expenses of student services, academic support, and institutional support, which includes expenses associated with noninstructional activities, such as admissions, student activities, libraries, and administrative and executive activities. At private for-profit institutions, these expenses accounted for 63 percent of total spending, more than twice the percentage spent on instruction (27 percent). 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. Combined expenses for research and public service (such as expenses for public broadcasting and community services) constituted 13 percent of total expenses at public institutions; hospital expenses constituted 11 percent and auxiliary enterprises (i.e., self-supporting operations, such as residence halls) constituted 7 percent of total expenses at public institutions. At private nonprofit institutions, research and public service combined, hospitals, and auxiliary enterprises constituted 12, 11, and 9 percent of total expenses, respectively.
In 2014–15, across all types of postsecondary institutional control, 2-year institutions spent a greater share of their total expenses on instruction than did 4-year institutions. For example, instructional expenses accounted for 35 percent of total expenses at public 2-year institutions, compared with 25 percent at public 4-year institutions.
Percentage of total expenses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by purpose of select expenses and control of institution: 2014–15
# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Expense categories at private institutions include allocated amounts of operation and maintenance of plant, interest, and depreciation while expense categories at public institutions do not. Due to categories not shown, detail does not sum to 100 percent. For data on other expense categories, see source tables in the Digest of Education Statistics 2016. Degree-granting institutions grant associate's or higher degrees and participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs.
In 2014–15, total expenses per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student were higher at private nonprofit 4-year postsecondary institutions ($54,157) than at public 4-year institutions ($41,074) and private for-profit 4-year institutions ($15,470). Expenses per FTE student in this indicator are adjusted for inflation using constant 2015–16 dollars, based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Private nonprofit 4-year institutions spent nearly twice as much per FTE student on instruction ($17,567) as public 4-year institutions ($10,221) and more than four times as much as private for-profit 4-year institutions ($3,948). Similarly, for the combined expenses of student services, academic support, and institutional support, $16,309 per FTE student was spent at private nonprofit 4-year institutions, which was higher than the amount spent at private for-profit 4-year institutions ($10,168 per FTE student), which was, in turn, higher than the amount spent at public 4-year institutions ($7,490 per FTE student). Expenses per FTE student for research and public service were higher at private nonprofit 4-year institutions ($6,268) and public 4-year institutions ($6,131) than at private for-profit 4-year institutions ($19). Among 2-year institutions, private nonprofit institutions spent more per FTE student on instruction ($6,931) than did private for-profit ($5,219) and public institutions ($5,131).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). The Condition of Education 2017 (NCES 2017-144), Postsecondary Institution Expenses.
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