Higher Education

Trends in college spending and budgeting lessons learned


The Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research providing data and tools to help higher education administrators and policymakers improve college affordability by controlling costs and increasing productivity. Its recent report on Trends in College Spending: 2003–2013 examined college and university finances during one of the most turbulent economic periods in decades.


Report highlights:

State and local funding Full-time equivalent student (2013-2013) increased by:

  • 5 percent for community colleges
  • 1 percent at public bachelor’s colleges

However, the trend data shows that average state and local funding per student has not rebounded since the last recession.

For example, public research universities’ funding per student was 28 percent lower in 2013 than in 2008, with a revenue decline of $2,900 per student.

Education spending Across all public and private sectors, spending is on the rise with a 2-3 percent increase (2012-2103) across all public four-year institutions. This is the largest increase since 2008.

One category where spending rose quicker from 2003-2013 is in student-service spending. This includes items such as career counselling, academic advising and student mental health services. Private institutions and select public institutions increased their student-service spending per pupil by more than 20 percent.

Degree and certificate production Amid steadily declining costs post-recession, degree and certificate production continued to grow due to efficiencies in the average production cost of completion (particularly at public college and universities, which were lower in 2013 than 2003). However, in 2013, these gains appeared in jeopardy at private institutions and public research universities, as costs per completion began to rise.


As formula budgeting and performance-based budgeting becoming more prevalent in higher education, institutions should evaluate their existing models for budgeting and planning. If a budget poorly equips an institution for a period of greater financial uncertainty, another model might be in order.


Colleges and universities hoping to avoid tuition and fees increases of tuition and fees can utilize Questica’s budgeting solution for higher education to establish and evaluate unlimited multi-year forecasting and hypothetical budget scenarios. This flexible software also allows for performance tracking, enabling institutions to establish quantifiable budgeting success measures and see how changes to spending impact the student learning experience.


Questica’s solutions were purposely built for the public sector. We currently manage over $55 billion in annual public sector budgets. If you are looking for ways to improve the budgeting and planning process for your institution check out a demo of Questica Budget and Performance for Higher Education.