Expense Account

The Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS, a term that maybe should have been in the first book) collects sixteen bajillion data points per year on every college in the US, from enrollment to crime. It takes forever for schools to complete, and like accreditation, puts an inverse burden on schools by resources: MIT, with its thousands of employees and billions of dollars, has the same reporting burden as Mount Ida College.

One area of data collection is an itemized budget, not in any categories that the colleges would themselves recognize (salaries, lab materials, travel, and the like) but rather in categories that require a whole other layer of understanding. They are (with deeply abbreviated definitions):

  • Instruction: “…expenses of the colleges, schools, departments, and other instructional divisions of the institution and expenses for departmental research and public service that are not separately budgeted. Includes general academic instruction, occupational and vocational instruction, community education, preparatory and adult basic education, and regular, special, and extension sessions. Also includes expenses for both credit and non-credit activities.”
  • Research: “… expenses for activities specifically organized to produce research outcomes and commissioned by an agency either external to the institution or separately budgeted by an organizational unit within the institution. The category includes institutes and research centers, and individual and project research.”
  • Student Services: “… expenses for admissions, registrar activities, and activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to students emotional and physical well-being and to their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside the context of the formal instructional program. Examples include student activities, cultural events, student newspapers, intramural athletics, student organizations, supplemental instruction outside the normal administration, and student records. Intercollegiate athletics and student health services may also be included except when operated as self-supporting auxiliary enterprises.”
  • Public service: “… expenses for activities established primarily to provide non-instructional services beneficial to individuals and groups external to the institution. Examples are conferences, institutes, general advisory service, reference bureaus, and similar services provided to particular sectors of the community. This function includes expenses for community services, cooperative extension services, and public broadcasting services.”
  • Institutional support: “… expenses for the day-to-day operational support of the institution. Includes expenses for general administrative services, central executive-level activities concerned with management and long range planning, legal and fiscal operations, space management, employee personnel and records, logistical services such as purchasing and printing, and public relations and development.”
  • Academic support: “… expenses of activities and services that support the institution’s primary missions of instruction, research, and public service. It includes the retention, preservation, and display of educational materials (for example, libraries, museums, and galleries); organized activities that provide support services to the academic functions of the institution (such as a demonstration school associated with a college of education or veterinary and dental clinics if their primary purpose is to support the instructional program); media such as audiovisual services; academic administration (including academic deans but not department chairpersons); and formally organized and separately budgeted academic personnel development and course and curriculum development expenses.”
  • Operation and maintenance of plant: “… expenses for operations established to provide service and maintenance related to campus grounds and facilities used for educational and general purposes. Specific expenses include utilities, fire protection, property insurance, and similar items.”

So there’s our seven categories. Our friends at the American Institute of Research and their Delta Cost Project have looked at these categories to see which have increased in proportion in the past decade (2001 to 2011… it takes a while to do the analysis). And the results are interesting and a little surprising. First, the data table. Data are expressed in expenditure per thousand students, constant 2011 dollars spending-table

First thing to notice is that it’s good being rich. The PrR (Private Research Universities, Harvard and Duke and Stanford and the like) have been able to increase spending on everything. On the other end of the scale, public community colleges (PuCC) have had cutbacks everywhere, usually pretty substantial. They’ve had a 55% increase in research spending, but the baseline was pretty low. When you used to spend two bucks, three dollars is a fifty percent increase…

Second, the public schools (the first four categories, all beginning with Pu) are all in significant states of deferred maintenance. In every case, spending on operation and maintenance of physical environment has dropped by a meaningful amount. The private schools are keeping up appearances, but the public schools are falling apart.

Third, spending on Student Services has increased substantially in every institution type except public baccalaureate (PuB) and community colleges (PuCC). There’s a real attention to consumer satisfaction except at the lowest-level public institutions, since they all have to compete for their students. The little state colleges and community colleges are the most impacted by the commodity pricing of education (see the previous post for that), and nobody’s choosing them because of their amenities. The others are all fighting for a temporarily smaller number of undergraduates—the 18-year-old US population peaked in 2008, and is in a trough that won’t come back to those levels until the mid 2020s—and have to appeal to customers through a broader array of services.

Fourth, this focus on customer service is reflected in a greatly reduced attention to public service. If you’re inside the walls, you’re going to be taken care of, but there’s no money to spend on the great unwashed outside the moat. The town/gown divides are worse and worse, with colleges drawing up the gates and focusing internally.

Finally, private schools are spending more on instruction and on academic support than they had ten years before, while public institutions have seen a much smaller increase in instructional spending and generally a decrease in academic support.

There’s a lot of detail that the AIR report can’t get into, in part because the IPEDS data collection is so generalized. But it’s an interesting place to start as we consider why schools are moving more and more toward contingent instructors.