Trends in College Spending: 2003-2013 - Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go? What Does It Buy?

Donna Desrochers and Steven Hurlburt

Trends in College Spending: 2003–2013 examines college and university finances during one of the most turbulent economic periods in decades. The financial ramifications of the 2008 recession were vast, affecting students’ ability to pay for college, lawmakers’ prioritization of public resources, and the budgetary environment facing higher education leaders. The challenges brought by the fiscal crisis also provided colleges and universities with an opportunity to reevaluate how they allocated resources and rethink how to manage costs and improve student outcomes.

Like previous Trends in College Spending reports, this update describes how colleges collect and spend money and the outcomes they produce. Financial and performance trends during the 2003–2013 decade suggest that, five years after the onset of the recession, higher education finally began to show signs of a fiscal recovery.

Report Highlights

  • Spending increased across all types of public and private institutions from 2012 to 2013.
  • The financial position of community colleges showed significant improvement in 2013 as enrollment continued to decline.
  • After four years of significant declines, sharp cuts in state and local appropriations subsided in 2013.
  • Colleges and universities no longer shifted additional operating costs onto students in 2013, but tuition revenue still financed a majority of education-related spending at public and private four-year institutions.
  • Degree and certificate production grew throughout the decade amid steadily declining costs in the recession’s aftermath; in 2013, however, a reversal occurred at some types of institutions.