- In the latest Gallup and Inside Higher Ed report, 63% of the 4,162 chief business and senior financial officers surveyed said they are confident in the financial health of their institutions over the next five years, up from 56% in 2017. And despite administrator accounts of dwindling state resources for higher education, CBOs at public institutions reported a steady proportion of state appropriations during the last three years. In addition, 77% said their institutions have an appropriate amount of debt.
- At the same time,18% of CBOs said their institutions should merge while another 17% said they had serious talks about merging, up from 12% last year. And less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree their institution provides enough data for them to make informed decisions about operational issues. Meanwhile, 42% disagreed that their institutions can make additional spending cuts without hurting the quality of teaching, down from 52% in 2017.
- Among strategies used to assess the financial status of their institutions, CBOs reported that net-operating revenues ratio, increase or decrease in unrestricted net assets and the rate of growth of net-tuition per student are key metrics used by their institutions. To maintain revenue, 72% of respondents said their colleges and universities will try to increase overall enrollment in the 2018-2019 academic year, while 63% said they will try to launch revenue-generating academic programs.
The industry is involved in a number of conflicting conversations around the sector's financial health, especially when it comes to public funding. But recent studies appear to indicate the tide is turning, with a nationally representative survey by Teachers College, Columbia University of 3,117 adults showing around three-fourths of Americans believe public spending on higher education is a good or an excellent investment.
The results stand up against conservative comments questioning the value of a liberal arts education broadly, with politicians like Donald Trump Jr. saying in a speech last year that higher education will "take $200,000 of your money; in exchange, we’ll train your children to hate our country. . . . We’ll make them unemployable by teaching them courses in zombie studies, underwater basket weaving and, my personal favorite, tree climbing.”
However, results from the aforementioned study coupled with the Inside Higher Ed/Gallup survey show that perhaps the commentary is in fact just commentary, with most college financial administrators feeling secure in the stability of their institutions. To keep that momentum going, leaders including Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, say it's essential to change the narrative about what's happening to higher education to show that institutions are doing a lot not only to stay afloat, but also to prepare students for the workforce and contribute to local economies.
Leaders must show "why the investment in educational attainment is necessary even against a whole litany of other demands for other resources," Henderson explained. "Having a network of advocates around the state that can amplify that message is also key; we have nine universities, each has a set of alumni that value [those institutions]. All politics of funding are actually still local, you're showing the value to local economies and industries."