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Report Compares College Spending, Resources Before Recession

July 9, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A report released today details where colleges were spending their money in the years leading up to nationwide budget crises in higher education.

The report, “Trends in College Spending,” comes from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, and includes a database open to the public on exactly what institutions were spending their money on, and where their funding was coming from. As the data available includes spending information through 2008, when many colleges had not yet been feeling the worst of the recession, education analysts suggests it paints a fairly accurate picture of where administrators’ priorities lie when it comes to spending.

An article in Inside Higher Ed on the report today details the bad habits of institutions of higher education that may have contributed to current budget woes. Among those missteps:

  • Colleges spend too much money on administration, including administrative positions and outside accounting and legal positions. Harvard University was the biggest offender, where administrative costs rose by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2008.
  • Compared to funds allocated to administrators, colleges spend too little on instruction. While funding support grew by 20 percent for administrative support, funding for instruction grew by only 10 percent. According to the report, even in those years when revenues improved, the share of funding going toward instruction did not increase on levels comparable to that of funding set aside for administrative, non-academic costs.
  • Spending per student varies dramatically by school. Public research colleges spend about $35,000 per student, compared to about $10,000 per student per year at community colleges, which have seen rapid growth over the last few years. That suggests students at those public colleges are disproportionately subsidized, despite the fact that they typically come from more affluent households than those attending community colleges.
  • Colleges rely too much on cost-shifting. Rather than cutting spending in years when budgets were tight, schools raised tuition instead, a move that may not be sustainable in the long run.

As it was around 2008 when colleges began adapting to the worst of new pressures on their budgets, it’s important to consider that the data in this study considers only those years prior to those funding constraints. The following decade will probably look quite different, and priorities may have shifted since. There’s no question that the recession has had a toll on higher education, especially on schools that depend on state funding.

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures described that declining state support for institutions of higher education. Many states have begun to rely on federal stimulus funds to address or prevent major budget cuts across the board, with California hit particularly hard. The report also showed more of a reliance on tuition to cover costs, as state support and school endowments have decreased. Tuition, which increased by about 2 percent between 2008 and 2009, now accounts for about 37 percent of total education revenue. In comparison, about 25 percent of education revenue came from students’ tuition payments in 1984.

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Some States May Have Long Wait Before Economic Recovery

July 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you thought the worst was over in terms of budget cuts and rising tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the country, think again. The latest projections from Moody’s Investors Service show that most institutions of higher education shouldn’t assume recoveries and relief from their states until at least 2013 and probably later.

In those states that have suffered the worst cuts, recovery may be even slower to kick in, as those are the same states that have had to cut spending in other areas as well. According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those states may first decide to increase spending in pensions, health care, and other services considered more essential than higher education. Only North Dakota, Texas and Alaska were listed by Moody’s as states where employment figures, a good projection of economic recovery, will return to stable levels before 2012.

Colleges may then be on their own for the next few years, leading to more cuts and creative cost cutting. (You may remember that students at Middlebury College make their own granola in the school’s bakery.) The economic picture is especially bleak for those states that have relief on federal stimulus funds to keep from making even deeper cuts. According to the Chronicle and Moody’s data, in 20 states, stimulus funds made up at least 5 percent of state support for public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. Three states have been particular reliant on stimulus funds – Colorado at 18 percent, Massachusetts at 12 percent and Arizona at 10 percent.

So what do these figures mean? For one, colleges need to figure out how to remain financially solvent with less state support. The Moody’s report also criticizes colleges for not doing more to make sure they won’t need to make deep cuts to their programs and faculties or, worse yet, close their doors. The latest school to do so is Wesley College, a small Mississippi college owned by the Congregational Methodist Church that was unable to find a way to cover about $2.7 million in debt. Southern Catholic College closed mid-semester due to a lack of funding, and may not raise those funds in time for fall. Nebraska’s Dana College will also close after the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools refused a buy-out of the college by a for-profit entity.

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Senate Approves Bill to Protect Against Lending Abuses

President Obama Expected to Sign off On Overhaul Legislation

July 16, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The financial overhaul bill approved last night by the U.S. Senate won’t only increase government oversight to prevent another economic collapse. Students who use debit and credit cards or who have taken out or plan to take out private student loans will also benefit.

The bill includes the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent entity that will exist within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers. What does this mean for students? The bureau will be there to protect students from abusive lending, and gives students a point of resolution if they feel they have issues with their private lenders, according to an article on the measure in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The bill also requires that debit and credit card companies lower the fees that colleges must pay when students use the cards. Currently, companies are charging “swipe fees” of 1 to 2 percent of transaction amounts, according to The Chronicle, putting quite a bit of pressure on struggling college bookstores. The legislation next goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign off on it. Also in the bill, the government will get more power to shut down companies that pose a threat to the country’s financial system. As the troubled economy has led to marked changes in higher education, including increases in tuition and fees, the introduction of wait lists at colleges that had never used them before, and, in worst-case scenarios, the shuttering of colleges, the bill could even give struggling schools some sense of hope.

Pell Grants could also see a boost if a spending bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee yesterday continues to move through Congress. According to another article in The Chronicle, the bill would raise spending on Pell Grants by $5.7 billion for the 2011 fiscal year, keeping the federal grants at the maximum levels of $5,550 per eligible student. The Federal Pell Grant, which is available to those students with the highest unmet financial need, has increased significantly over the years; students were able to receive $4,050 in the 2006-2007 academic year. The panel also approved an additional $1 billion for the National Institute of Health. According to The Chronicle, legislators hope that funding could go toward “translating basic research results into practical and available cures and treatments.”

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California Community Colleges Add Classes in Midst of Budget Cuts

July 30, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

California has had it particularly bad during the economic crisis. The public school system there has tried to address millions of dollars in cuts using wait lists and more selective admissions processes in the state’s community colleges to avoid adding to the budget shortfalls. One California community college district, however, is taking a different approach. Several two-year schools in San Diego will be adding about 1,150 classes this fall, rather than following the example of other community colleges and their own district in the recent past, where cuts to course catalogs have become the norm.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed this week, the San Diego Community College District will be paying for the additional classes using rainy day funds and what’s left of their operating budget. While the school won’t be able to sustain that kind of funding indefinitely, administrators there are hopeful that the state will provide some funding over the next two years to support the extra offerings.

The state’s community college budget was cut by 8 percent overall over the last year; college classes at the schools were cut by more than 6 percent, according to Inside Higher Ed. This led to a more competitive community college system, which had up to that point catered students looking to return to school after a long absence or to build up their transcripts and save some money before transferring to a four-year college. This past year, about 10,000 students were turned away from the San Diego Community College District. Administrators there decided they were being less helpful to students than harmful, as some were forced to postpone their coursework because they were unable to get into required courses. The additional classes will be in the most high-demand subjects, according to the article.

Elsewhere, another college is taking a creative cost-cutting measure to recoup losses from their own budget crisis. Texas A&M University will be getting rid of toilet paper in residence hall bathrooms, a move administrators say will save the college $82,000. The college will still supply toilet paper in larger bathrooms in public areas and administrative offices, according to another recent Inside Higher Ed article. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience—and some students have already said they plan to lift toilet paper from wherever it’ll be on campus—budget cuts at the Texas school have also forced administrators to cut 500 faculty and staff positions, among a number of other amenities.

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Congress Approves Aid for States Struggling with Budget Cuts

August 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You’ve read all about how colleges have been coping with budget cuts over the last year or so. Wait lists. Hiring freezes and holds on infrastructure improvements. Short weeks.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill they hope will allow administrators at those institutions of higher education to breathe a little easier. The $26 billion they approved will go toward those same state budgets that have suffered in the economic crisis; while the funding isn’t specifically earmarked for state colleges, any funding the states receive at this point will allow those schools to avoid further cuts in an already-hurting higher education system. About $16 billion of that total will go toward Medicaid assistance.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half of the country’s state lawmakers have been counting on varying amounts of emergency federal aid from Congress. While the expected totals aren’t as much as many had hoped—Maine had budgeted for $100 million, but will receive $77 million; Pennsylvania had budgeted for $850 million, but will receive about $600 million—the funding will help public university systems avoid further cuts. In Maine, administrators were preparing for cuts in the $8.4 million range, according to The Chronicle. While they had already reduced their budgets by $8 million over the previous year, the new funding will allow the state’s colleges to remain steady in the coming fiscal year.

Some states had already been preparing for massive cuts had the funding not come through. In Massachusetts, funding for public colleges there was already cut by 12 percent, a move lawmakers there must analyze now that some additional funding has come through. In Texas, a higher-education panel recently recommended that students take more of their learning off campus to save public institutions some money. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the proposal suggested students should complete at least 10 percent of their degrees via online courses and remote programming. The plan would affect undergraduates at all of the state’s public colleges. While this is still just a proposal, a push toward online learning isn’t a new idea. In Minnesota, higher education officials hope to have students earn 25 percent of all credits earned through the public college system through online coursework by 2015.

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A New Facebook in Town?

August 31, 2010

by Kevin Ladd

Looks like there’s a new facebook in town. Sort of. Apparently trying to recapture what the aforementioned site once offered, namely exclusivity to college students, is the new site CollegeOnly.com. It’s really not a bad idea, either, if you think about it. Sure, facebook really took off and their numbers skyrocketed as a result of their opening-up their site and services to the general public, but at what price? Or, at what price to students, I should say. It worked out pretty well for facebook. I mean, does it really make sense to jettison users of your site once they reach a particular age or social status? With regard to site traffic, less is never more.

Several years ago, students could go online and post photos from frat parties and, basically, be college students without fear of their parents, employers, etc. seeing them, for example. Sure, facebook allows you to adjust your privacy settings and sure, you don’t have to accept every friend request you get, but it could be a bit awkward to get an invite from an employer, parent, aunt, etc. with whom you really don’t want to be facebook “friends” for the above-mentioned reasons.

Having only glanced at the site (don’t currently have a “.edu” email address), I can’t go into much more detail, other than to say the clipart on the home page is certainly an interesting choice. Regardless of your gender or preference there’s a plunging neckline there for you. Enjoy.

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Vigilance, Verizon to Replace Blue Phones in Contra Costa?

September 2, 2010

by Kevin Ladd

Between the realization that virtually every college student roaming their campuses has a cell phone and the rather considerable expense of “blue phone” maintenance, the Contra Costa Community College District has decided to do away with the recently upgraded telephones intended to ensure safety for those wandering the campus after dark.

Just a couple of years ago, the district spent around $100,000 upgrading the phones from analog to digital and are probably now wishing they had a little more foresight, given the rapid proliferation of cell phones on their campuses. Since that expense, they have been throwing good money after bad, with maintenance costs of about $50,000 each year and even with that, the call boxes are frequently down, sometimes with an actual “Out of Order” sign hanging from them.

As it has reportedly been several years since a single, verified “real” emergency call has come in from one of these rather expensive fixtures and there is no indication the blue phones act as any sort of deterrent against campus assaults, the prudent thing to do seems to be to just do away with them.

With the blue phones gone, more emphasis would be put on the college’s neighborhood-watch style program, encouraging students to be vigilant and to look-out for one another, reporting any assaults or conflicts warranting professional intervention to campus security and/or the police.

This may or may not become a national trend, with some campuses installing new blue phones to this day, but for Contra Costa, the return on their investment in the fixtures just isn’t there. There is a strong belief that, between cell phones so commonly being carried by students and increased awareness and vigilance, their campuses can remain safe while reducing some of their operating expenses. What about you? Does your campus still have blue phones? Do you think it is a waste of resources? Please feel free to comment and let us know what you think!

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Pay-Per-Click, Reinterpreted

Johns Hopkins Students Not Feeling New Fees

September 24, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

College students always looking for ways to stretch their money as far as it can go. This could mean getting meals strictly from the campus dining halls or doing laundry once a month instead of every week but if that means a little extra cash in their pockets or bank accounts, scaling back on luxuries (and even essentials) is an easy sacrifice to make. That being said, I can completely understand why some Johns Hopkins students are up in arms.

Nearly 200 students are protesting a new fee for classroom clickers, a technology that allows professors to gauge student understanding or opinion in real time by giving them handheld voting devices and taking polls throughout a class period. Students can pay per course ($13) or a one-time fee ($35) that covers all courses, all semesters; students must also purchase enrollment codes and the actual clicker devices, which cost between $20 and $30. Adding this cost to the already large amounts students spend on tuition, housing, books and other supplies may not seem like a lot but to a college student, it’s about the price of two movie tickets and some Chinese carry-out. The university, however, thinks the program adds considerable value to the education of its students: One biology lecturer found that since he started using clickers, class attendance and grades have gone up 30 percent.

Still, students are not down with the added costs and have created a Facebook page where they can voice their displeasure about everything clicker-related. Thought time: Would you pony up the extra cash if it meant better grades or would you rather keep it and splurge on a night out with friends instead?

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Federal Student Aid

Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2011-15

September 30, 2010

Federal Student Aid

by Suada Kolovic

In a new strategic plan, the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) promises to take on additional responsibilities to improve its outreach to students and “intensify efforts” to reduce fraud and abuse in its programs. The plan is composed of five strategic goals and sets performance targets for each of them for the next five years. One goal calls for identifying students for whom financial assistance can make a difference and reaching out to these students more effectively, while another objective promises to ensure that funding for college will serve the interests of the students first and foremost by ensuring “program integrity.”

As the largest single source of funding for postsecondary education in the United States, FSA distributes almost $130-billion in aid a year and administers a loan portfolio valued at $700-billion. And with bank-based lending programs coming to an end, its portfolio of Direct Loans is expected to grow from four million loans in 2008 to 29 million by 2015. When asked how the transition to direct lending is going, William J. Taggart, the office's chief operating officer, said that 96 percent of colleges are now in the program. (The remaining 4 percent are mostly small vocational schools that typically award fewer than 250 loans a year.) The participation rate is impressive, however, Taggart reports that the organization needs to step up its game when it comes to making this information available to students.

"We have to do a better job of making sure students who are eligible for aid know we're here," Taggart said.

Note: The best indicator of your eligibility for all federal aid is the FAFSA, which is available online to speed up processing and is ready for you to fill out starting Jan. 1 of each year.

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Keeping it All in the Family

College President’s Family Members Make Bank

October 1, 2010

by Suada Kolovic

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly is going on here, I’ll tell you: It’s called nepotism - defined as favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence. And what I wouldn’t give to be a member of Paula S. Wallace’s family right now. Ms. Wallace co-founded the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1978 with her parents and her then-husband. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation’s largest art schools and with that increase in success came an increase in compensation. According to her 2008 tax returns, Ms. Wallace made $1,946,730.

That amount tops the compensation of all but a handful of college chiefs. But SCAD, a relatively pricey and prosperous art school, is smaller than universities that pay in that range. Ms. Wallace, who is in her early 60s, became SCAD’s president in 2000. Her total compensation package grew by about $1.5-million between 2008 and the previous reporting period. But Ms. Wallace isn’t the only one raking in insane amounts of cash; she turned it into family affair.

Employee Current Title 2008 Compensation
Paula S. Wallace President and co-founder $1,946,730
Mother, May L. Poetter Trustee and co-founder $61,767
Husband, Glen E. Wallace Senior Vice President for College Resources $289,235
Son, John Paul Rowan Vice President, Hong Kong Campus $233,843
Daughter, Marisa Rowan Director of Equestrian Programs $101,493
Daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowan Director of External Relations, Hong Kong Campus $85,494

But where exactly does this money come from, you ask? Well, a large portion of the pay earned by Ms. Wallace and her husband comes from a for-profit entity called the SCAD Group Inc. This for-profit arm provides nonacademic services to SCAD—which has three branch campuses and a distance-education operation—including human resources, financial management, communication and student support. In 2008, its share of total income amounted to $111 million, or an amount equal to about 43 percent of the college's total expenses of $261 million. Did I mention this for-profit subsidiary also owns an airplane that administrators and trustees use for business, AND the pays for a personal assistant for Ms. Wallace? Guess I just did!

If you’re a SCAD student, were you aware this collegial family tree was in place? And for students everywhere, how would you feel knowing that your school was structured this way instead of with much more qualified individuals?

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