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Colleges examining expenses, getting strategic about revenue

Higher ed officials plan to increase staff salaries, cut tuition
University Business, January 2017
  • Over half of higher ed finance administrators say they plan on modestly increasing tuition revenue expenses.
  • Almost three-quarters of finance administrators say they plan on modestly increasing college staff salaries.

Keeping student tuition and fees down is the top priority for 2017 selected by campus CFOs and other finance department administrators in a UB survey—yet tuition revenue and nontuition student fees are the biggest anticipated funding categories for the coming year.

Among the 64 administrators responding, 70 percent say these fees will increase modestly or significantly, and 58 percent say that’s what will happen with tuition. 

There are also high hopes for endowment income, with 51 percent indicating that it should increase in 2017. Forty-six percent anticipate an increase in advancement income. But, not surprisingly, administrators have a negative outlook on state and federal funding, with 34 percent anticipating a modest or significant decrease. 

The biggest spending increases will, as last year’s survey also indicated, go to staff salaries; 70 percent anticipate a modest increase in salaries. Modest or significant increases on technology spending are expected by 67 percent of respondents.

The largest "significant increase" will be health benefits, with 24 percent anticipating spending a lot more;  an additional 38 percent will spend modestly more. 

Addressing administrative inefficiencies was named a top priority by nearly half of the finance administrators surveyed. In a separate survey of 66 presidents, provosts and chancellors, more than half say controlling costs will be more of a priority in 2017 than it was in 2016. 

About one-quarter of the presidents, when asked about what they feel has the potential to cause the greatest financial or reputational harm in 2017, chose legal and regulatory compliance from a list of 20 items. The national financial outlook was selected by 21 percent of these campus officials. 

Their two biggest worries? Seven in 10 top officials surveyed identified enrollment declines, and more than four in 10 have state or federal budget cuts on their minds.

Finance leaders’ priorities for 2017

(Up to 4 items could be selected)

  • 70% Keeping student tuition and fees down
  • 56% Keeping up with technology
  • 48% Addressing administrative inefficiencies
  • 45% Tapping into philanthropic and corporate funding sources
  • 44% Controlling the cost of health benefits
  • 20% Improving procurement practices
  • 14% Finding ways to share services with other institutions
  • 11% Reducing staff travel expenses
  • 6% Meeting pension obligation

Top campus officials on the need to keep costs down

  • 52% of college presidents, chancellors and provosts surveyed say that controlling costs will be even more of a priority in 2017 than it was in 2016
  • 42% say it will be about the same priority
  • 6% say it will be less of a focus in 2017 than in 2016
  • 93% of presidents, chancellors and provosts say efforts to improve operational efficiency will increase modestly or significantly in 2017 
  • 51% say efficiency efforts will increase significantly

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