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Colleges cut instruction spending

Posted by gradefund on January 22, 2009

Colleges cut instruction spending

By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

Most of the nation’s colleges are gradually paring back their investments in classroom teaching, an analysis of federal data shows. And all colleges have in recent years been spending a greater share of their revenue on expenses other than instruction, including computing centers, student services, administrative salaries and lawn care.

Those are among findings of a report released today that sheds light on where various types of colleges and universities get their money and how they spend it. While instruction remains the largest share of education and general spending at most colleges, much of the revenue raised by increasing tuition is not going to that core function of higher education, it concludes.

With one notable exception, “Students are paying for more and arguably getting less, particularly in the classroom,” says Jane Wellman, director of the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit that released the report. It is based on federally reported data from 2002 to 2006 of nearly 2,000 public and private institutions that enroll about 75% of all college students.

The exception is private research universities, which spend more per student than any other sector, but which enroll fewer students overall than most other institutions.

The report found that total spending on education and related services, including academic and administrative support, remained flat or declined between 2002 and 2006 everywhere but at those institutions, which can draw from more sources, including endowment income.

That could change as more private research universities, including Cornell, Harvard and Yale, see precipitous drops in their endowments.

At public colleges and universities, much of the decline in instruction spending — which is primarily faculty salaries and benefits — can be linked to a decline in state appropriations.

“I don’t think institutions have decided to disinvest in instruction,” Wellman says, but their spending patterns do show “a lack of a strategic approach.”

“The quickest place to cut costs is in instructional programs. When the primary focus is on balancing the budget from year to year, you grab what you can and spend where you must,” Wellman says.

Existing data can’t speak to the quality of education, nor is it detailed enough to determine whether specific spending is justified. A key goal of the report is to encourage institutions and policymakers to be more transparent about their finances.

“Policymakers and the public are showing increasing skepticism about spending in higher education, questioning whether tuition increases are helping to expand access and improve quality,” it says. “The data in this report show that this is a valid question.”

Other findings:

•More students, particularly low-income and minority students, are attending the colleges and universities with the least to invest in students. “Basically what we’re asking is (for) a set of folks who don’t have resources to pay more, even as we disinvest in their instruction,” says Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a non-profit that works to increase access to college.

•If tuition increases were tied to increased spending on education-related expenses, tuition at most public institutions would have dropped between 2002 and 2006. At public research universities, about 8% of tuition increases can be linked to increased spending on education-related expenses.

•At some point between 2002 and 2004, most private four-colleges began spending a larger share of their budget on administrative and academic support than on instruction. The exception: private research universities.


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