Colleges Spend Less for Education

Barry Lenson

“Trends in College Spending 1998-2008,” a new report from the nonprofit Delta Cost Project, reports that colleges are spending less on classes and more on administrative costs, campus upkeep, and even recreational facilities.

To quote from the report’s Executive Summary . . .

“From 2002 to 2006, total spending on education and related services declined for all types of institutions except research universities. Additionally, the share of educational spending dedicated to classroom instruction declined at all types of institutions from 2002 to 2006. By contrast, spending on academic support, student services, administration, and maintenance increased as a share of total educational costs over the same period.”

Here are some other findings . . . 

Colleges are restricted from using some funds for classroom instruction. The report states, “The shift away from public funding of institutions continues, with most of the new money in higher education coming from tuition and fees, private gifts, and grants and contracts. Much of the new revenue is restricted by the donor, and is not available to pay for core educational programs.”

Most students are paying a larger percentage of instructional costs. To quote from the report, “Students are paying more of the total cost of their education at all institutions except private research universities. From 2002 to 2006, the share of educational costs represented by student tuition rose from just over one-third to nearly one-half at public four-year institutions. At private master’s and bachelor’s institutions, students are paying between 75 and 85 percent of the full cost of their education.”

Tuition is paying for shortfalls in non-educational areas. The report summarizes, “At public research universities, nearly all of the revenues from student tuition increases from 2002 to 2006 (92 percent) were used to offset revenue losses from other sources, primarily state appropriations. At public master’s institutions and community colleges, all of the revenues from increased tuition during this period replaced losses from other sources.”

The bottom line is that more college tuition dollars are paying for school expenses that are not directly tied to education. That’s a byproduct of the budget crunch that has hit colleges and universities so hard. But from a student’s point of view, it doesn’t seem to be fair. Does it?


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