Future paints mixed financial picture for higher ed

Future paints mixed financial picture for higher ed

As loan debt increases, fundraising and endowments—but not state funding—are recovering

Along with enrollment, public funding and debt, providing health care to employees will be among the top financial pressures on higher education in the coming years, say several campus administrators.

Bill Kelleher, vice president for finance and administration at Western New England University in Massachusetts, says health care is indeed one of the biggest components of that institution’s budget. While the health plan is carefully monitored, officials also try to keep costs down with wellness initiatives, including generous time-off policies and free access to the campus clinic and fitness center.

“I think we have a very robust health care program,” Kelleher says. “We have been able to keep health care premiums down pretty low.”

On a positive economic note, fundraising and endowments have rebounded. Fundraising increased 9 percent to $33.8 billion, the highest level since 2008, according to a survey by the Council for Aid to Education. Endowments in 2013 delivered an 11.7 percent return compared to the previous year’s drop of .3 percent, according to the most recent NACUBO-Commonfund study.

However, state funding for higher education in 48 states remains below pre-recession levels. In fact, while some funding has been restored in the last few years, states are still spending an average of 23 percent less—or $2,026—on higher ed, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In response, public institutions have increased tuition by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, the center found.

Total student loan debt, meanwhile, reached $1.1 trillion in the first quarter of 2014, and, as of 2013, the average student borrower owed just over $30,000, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.


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