Apr 21

Understanding University Finances

As a higher education professional, you’re probably well aware tuition has been dramatically outpacing inflation at both private and public schools for the past 40-plus years.

While some people question if a degree is still worth it, simple math says yes: After all, theaverage recipient of a B.A. or B.S. makes $2.3 million over his or her lifetime, compared to $1.3 million for the average high school graduate. That’s not to mention innumerable more benefits, like increased job satisfaction, better health, and greater quality of life.

Yet with national student debt topping $1.3 trillion, an increasing number of loan defaults, and the consequent drag on the total economy, every academic institution has an obligation to look at its budget and ask, “How can we cut back?”

Here are some ideas.

Offer More Online Classes

Online courses are significantly cheaper to provide, for several reasons. First, the school can save money on facilities, such as building maintenance, cleaning, electricity, supplies, and so on. Second, each instructor can reach more students online than in a face-to-face setting; for example, only 50 people may fit into a lecture hall, but an unlimited number can watch the professor lecture on their computer screen. Lastly, distributing tests, quizzes, homework, and essay assignment online (rather than in-person) is more efficient—and thus cheaper.

While some argue this model is less effective than the traditional face-to-face model, recent research suggests “student learning outcomes for online learners are as good as or better than traditional learners regardless of background characteristics and that the students were greatly satisfied with online learning.”

Go Green

Becoming more earth-friendly isn’t only good for the planet, it’s also good for your bottom line. For example, in 2009 Arizona State University replaced more than 10,000 lights in six parking structures and 13 buildings with LED ones. This swap reduces ASU’s annual energy consumption by almost 3 million kilowatt hours. Even better, the college saves approximately $127,000 per year.

If you’re interested in a similar project, this GE white paper on LED campus lighting is a great resource.

Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina has implemented a number of environmental initiatives, such as switching computer monitors to LCD versions, using alternative fuel vehicles, installing high-efficiency washers and dryers, and starting recycling campaigns. All in all, the university is saving more than $1.3 million each year.

But even small changes can add up. For example, Pitzer College, located in Claremont, Calif. has decided to power-wash its sidewalks once per year, rather than twice—trimming its yearly budget by $80,000.

Employ Students

To save money while giving your students valuable experience, put them to work. The College of the Ozarks requires every student to work 15 hours per week during the academic year and two 40-hours weeks when classes aren’t in-session. Combined with the scholarships and grants the college gives out, this work program allows them to graduate without debt. Some students even opt to work during the summer to cover their room and board.

The College of Wooster took a less extreme approach, hiring students during the summer to work on campus-improvement projects, like painting rooms, planting gardens, performing maintenance, etc. Not only did the school reduce its labor costs, but students reduced their student debt.

Partnering with local employers is yet another way to realize this benefit. Since 1998, more than 12,000 people have graduated from the Metropolitan College, a partnership between United Postal Service (UPS) and four academic institutions in Louisville, Kentucky. The program lets participants go to school while working part-time overnight shifts at UPS. UPS funds 100% of their tuition and even helps cover the costs of books. The company benefits from a 92% new hire retention rate, a more educated workforce, and of course, favorable PR.

Raise Money

Along with cutting costs, many colleges are finding creative ways to generate more revenue.

UMass Catering, for example, is a big money-maker for the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Each year, this self-described “premier program” hosts more than 500 events, bringing in around $2.5 million. So, if you’ve got a solid catering team, consider advertising to outside vendors.

Your school may also be able to raise some money by selling surplus goods. That’s what the University of Wisconsin-Madison has done: Its Business Services department started SWAP, or Surplus With a Purpose. SWAP collects equipment donations (like electronics, hardware, office furniture, and so on) and either reuses it or sells it to the public. It made $280,000 in its first year alone.

Other schools, including Oregon State, Penn State, Michigan State, and Washington State, have followed suit and sold their unwanted goods on eBay.

By finding creative ways to slash their costs and generate more revenue, colleges are making tuition more affordable. Not only does this alleviate student financial woes, but your institution may even see a rise in applications. Ultimately, everyone benefits.

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