Non Profit Private Colleges
Private not-for-profit colleges and universities (PNFP) make up nearly half (1,600) of all non-profit learning institutions in America. Close to 3.4 million students attend a diverse group of campuses ranging in size from 100 to 30,000 with an average enrollment closer to 1,920. Primarily, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) identifies the structure of these school partner schools through a variety of different categories including: liberal arts, research, comprehensive, historically black, single-gender, two-year, and post graduate programs such as law, medicine, engineering, and business (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, 2013a).
In terms of finances, private institutions have actually decreased in tuition rates (11.2%) over the course of the last ten years if adjusted for inflation. On average, the list price for one year of tuition (2010 - 2011) comes to $27, 293 with an average out of pocket cost for each student after grants and tax deductions coming to $11, 320. Additionally, nearly 90% of those enrolling at one of these colleges or universities were able to receive financial aid of some form and in total received nearly $22,000 in support (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, 2013a).
PNFP colleges also boast strong economic impact. For example, during the 2004 reporting cycle, private not-for-profit colleges and universities employed 750,000 workers and reported $134 billion dollars in estimated revenue. NAICU (2013a) also states that the economic impact of these institutions on their local and state communities calculates to $335 billion from sources such as taxes and expenditures with another $4.2 billion coming from 1.4 volunteer hours of enrolled students.
Despite the glowing data reported by NAICU, other sources have a different view of where these institutions stand and their financial impact on prospective and current students, as well as the entire system of higher education. Ehrenberg (2013) states that the current models of most PNFP colleges and universities are leading to decreased levels of sustainability as well as tuition rates that are eliminating many different key demographics of prospective students. Kaufman and Woglom (2008) add to this point by stating that much of the criticism coming down on these schools stems from the lack of effort put in to tuition control despite the financial resources to do so. In turn, the perception of these colleges increasingly takes on an aura of elitism.
However, there is also the viewpoint that many private non-profit institutions are dealing with new financial woes in the wake of the 2007 recession. For example, in terms of expenses, the post-recession years have shown that many PNFPs have cut spending across the board despite increases in revenue. Academic support saw 2% cuts at the bachelors level, 1.9% in student services, 3.6% in institutional support, and 7.7% drawbacks in operations and maintenance (Desrochers & Kirshtein, 2012).
Desrochers & Kirshtein (2012) conclude that in part, this strategy was executed to make up for lost ground from previous years of revenue loss and higher expenditure costs. In previous decades of economic strife, many private colleges and universities have remained rather insularly in terms of re-configuring costs and revenue management. Therefore, the wide-spread economic impact of this recession is still not fully known and in terms of finances - recouped.
So what is the condition of private not-for-profit colleges and universities in this country? How do they compare to public institutions? What are the primary funding sources and models which help to sustain PNFP operations? Do any unique issues exist in the realm of private funding which may not exist elsewhere? This work looks to examine these issues and provide a broader perspective of these funding models.
The Private vs. Public Relationship
At the most basic level the varied difference between public and private institutions comes down to funding. State institutions are typically supported in large part by tax subsidies from local, state, and federal governments in some cases up to 80 or 90%. In part, this allows tuition rates to stay low in order to serve their primary mission of providing access for students to attain a degree (Lombardi, 2006).
PNFP institutions on the other hand are in the traditional sense - supported by tuition driven measures. Meaning, many of these colleges and universities are focused on a bottom line guided by enrollment numbers which lead to, in theory, focused and forecasted enrollment numbers and steady streams of revenue instead of reliance on state appropriations. Additionally, private colleges rely on endowments and donations in order to support the institutional mission and keep up the initiatives set forth by their respective leaders (Lombardi, 2006
Although the relationship between private colleges and the public sector is not mutually inclusive there are a variety of revenue streams available from government agencies. Primarily, through specific research initiatives at the post graduate level. Resourceful PNFP's have also taken advantage of educational grants in order to create new funding sources (Lombardi, 2006).
Comparatively speaking, the average tuition price for all public colleges calculates to $13, 297 in the same year (2010 - 2011). However, aid for public institutions primarily fell on the shoulders of the state with nearly 38% of attending students requiring funding from this source in comparison to (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). In terms of federal aid, public institutions still led PNFPs (39% to 35%); however, they were far surpassed in terms of student loans. Only 51% of students in public colleges and universities utilized student loans while nearly 64% of private college students had to borrow money in order to complete an aid package. (U.S. Department of Education, 2013).
Despite the varied difference in tuition costs, one area of funding geared specifically to institutional aid. Within the public sector 40% of public education students received in-house grants. While on the other hand, 80% of private institutions were able to disburse internal aid packages in order to provide support for students unable to pay tuition costs out of pocket (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Of the private aid amounts 64% were able to fully meet the financial need of students while 24% actually exceeded required aid amounts (Baum & Ma, 2010).
Beyond the institutional relationship, policies of various state governments also has a resounding effect on the financial policies of PNFP colleges and universities. Across the board one of the long lasting driving forces over budgets and tuition-setting is the amount of aid awarded by public entities (state and federal) (Zumeta, 2001). As previously mentioned, private schools are dependent on a multitude of factors in order to stay solvent. One of them being the need to couple their aid packages with those of the federal government.
However, this becomes problematic during periods of financial conservancy. Specifically when the federal and state governments fail to increase levels of aid to students that match those of rising institutional costs. Because PNFP colleges and universities depend on this funding in order to create cash flow throughout each respective school they are dealt a very serious foundational issue - increase tuition and risk losing specific demographics of desired students or make cuts which could ultimately affect the quality of the college itself (Zumeta, 2001).
Although the plight of student aid is a burden shared by both public and private institutions in terms of shrinking and competitive resource allocation (Zusman, 2005), there is one foundational difference between the two structures. State-run colleges and institutions are able to weather the ebb and flow of financial woes; in part, because they are an arm of the government. Typically, legislators view these respective schools as a public good and are more likely to open pathways to funding and depending on the state structure, PNFPs may be excluded (Zumeta, 2001).
Zumeta (2001) describes these various state frameworks as "postures." The first being a laissez-faire approach. In this frame, private institutions are left to their own devices. Therefore, very little is given in the way of additional funding. Primarily, states with little higher education presences outside of the public sector are more likely to lean in favor of this understanding.
On the contrary, the idea of state central-planning focuses on private institutions as integral functions of the state. Aside from appropriations, lawmakers view PNFPs as a public necessity thus they should be involved in planning, programming, and research initiatives. Such a mindset evolves out of geographical areas where private colleges have a strong tie to communities and the area workforce (Zumeta, 2001).
Building on to Zumeta's (2001) description of state central-planning is market-competition. Although this approach is very similar to central-planning there exists one distinguishing characteristic. Legislators set up a fair and evenhanded marketplace where competition is promoted and government intervention is left to a minimum.
Zumeta (2001) concludes that state central-planning and market-competition are primarily the two most viable options for any state. In terms of the relationship he also describes the phenomenon of more public funding equates to more institutional funding for students. Because, government entities are able to spend more on tuition, PNFPs are able to use that money they would have otherwise put into very discretionary packages and equally distribute across the student base.
Scholarships and Tuition Discounting
Exclusively or inclusively institutional scholarships along with tuition discounts are used in part to attract students to a college or university. Scholarships, need or merit based typically derive from two different areas. First is the funded aid award. Primarily, this funding stems from a restricted portion of the college' endowment. Meaning, a specific amount exists, therefore, only a set number of these scholarships can be distributed to students (Martin, 2002).
Second, is unfunded aid. In this scenario the institution is providing its services to students at a discounted rate. Because most endowments cannot consistently produce enough funding to cover all scholarship packages for each eligible student year over year, institutions will default to unfunded financial strategies which can then be viewed as either a marginal cost tuition discount or as just an overall institutional expense. In either case, unfunded scholarships have immediate implications on revenue (Martin, 2002).
Tuition discounting on the other hand is built on the pretense of increasing quantity (Martin, 2002). In terms of the basic principles, colleges and universities utilize this strategy in order to increase the level of fluid revenue coming into the institution. Additionally, colleges will use this tactic in order to target underprivileged demographics who may not meet certain merit or aid based requirements for funded or unfunded scholarships (Davis, 2003).
During the 2011 reporting cycle the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) reported in a study of 400 (25%) PNFPs that the rate of tuition discount (share of gross tuition and fees) has increased to 42.8% up from 40% in 2010 for all full-time, freshmen students. In terms of the percentage of overall institutional aid as a portion of gross tuition and fees that number is up to 51% in 2011 from 48.5% in 2009. NACUBO (2011) also points out that this number has consistently been on the rise since the recession of 2007 to help battle enrollment trends which suggest a decrease or at the very least minimal growth in student populations at private colleges and universities.
However, there are several factors within private colleges and universities which may actually lead to revenue loss when it comes to tuition discounting. First, tuition discounting and aid can outpace rises in standard tuition and fee rates. Redd (2000) finds that institutions with the highest levels of discounting actually increased spending on grants by $306 dollars per student. Many of which who were unable to subsequently increase actual tuition charges by the appropriate comparative amount. Meaning net revenue grew at a slower rate than gross. Over time, this can lead to losses in revenue and serious financial implications if PNFPs are unable to find funding through other means.
Second, merit based tuition discounts can lead to revenue loss. Redd (2000) states that institutional initiatives which look to market to only the best and brightest may not only disenfranchise minority groups of students but lead to financial trouble for the school. Primarily, this occurs when competition for high-achieving academic students increases. In turn, colleges and universities are more apt to provide any incentives in order for these students to enroll.
If there little left in the way of funded or unfunded scholarships the next place an institution is going to look is in tuition discounting. However, when this occurs, an institution may not take the financial need of the student into account whatsoever. Therefore, a school may give a student a discounted rate who could easily have paid the standard tuition and fee pricing without institutional help (Redd, 2000). If colleges continue the practice of only considering one factor over another, they may be awarding the wrong type of aid and in turn ineffectively utilizing their financial resources.
Financial Solvency Strategies
In 1993, the state of Georgia implemented a scholarships program (HOPE) which helps students attend specific institutions within the state. Although, at first, this was good news for PNFPs in the state because each student was given a $3,000 award to attend in-state private colleges, there has been very little movement in the years since the development of the scholarship. This is due largely in part to the fact that legislators have ultimately focused on the development of public colleges and universities when refining the programs vitality. Therefore, as each year passes, tuition rises and inversely the private award becomes less and less of a factor (Fischer, 2006).
While many private Georgia PNFPs have seen slight rises in enrollment, ultimately the program has made competition for qualified students more and more difficult. Many private institutions have had to respond to the swell in public college enrollment in the state by increasing their own institutional aid and marketing aggressively nationally and internationally in order to maintain their institutional mission. Fischer (2006) adds that this re-evaluation of strategy puts private institutions into a very difficult position financially as they have to find new ways in order to maintain a certain level of financial solvency.
While Georgia is just one example, many other states look closely at the HOPE program as an indicator of what could soon be their plight (Fischer, 2006). Therefore, private institutions must make adjustments in their programming to stay competitive with their public counterparts.
Additionally the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities adds that this must also be done while at the same time meeting the same diversity benchmarks to match state supported schools (NAICU, 2013b).
In terms of finances there are several strategies being instituted by PNFPs to keep up with the added state support. For example, some schools discount tuition. Alaska Pacific University, Ashland University, Belmont Abbey College, and Concordia University have decreased their tuition during the 2012 - 2013 anywhere from 32.6 to 34% in order to sustain and increase enrollment. Although the strategy of discounting and reducing tuition is not a new practice (Hillman, 2010), it has become more commonplace as competition for students grows (NAICU, 2012).
PNFPs have also begun to instill new policies such as four-year graduation guarantees, and in some cases controlling the student-government relationship by creating policies in direct response to the recession, decreases in student aid, rising student debt, and military sequestration (NAICU, 2013b). In the case of Franklin & Marshall College, any student eligible for aid is capped at taking out a comprehensive total of $10,000 over the course of their college career. Although this program is novel in its approach, the strategy will still require the institution to make up an aggregate loss of 1.8 million dollars over the two-year period (Franklin & Marshall College, 2013).
Other PNFPs have also begun to take student debt measures into their own hands in order to provide a competitive edge. Adrian College (2013), for example is assisting students with loan debt if they earn less than $37,000 dollars a year. Wilson College (2013), another small, private liberal arts school is reducing the total amount of student loans up $10,000 based on a student's final grade point average.
In response to military cutbacks, many private institutions are beginning to reach out to the armed forces. Columbia College of Missouri (2011), Endicott College (2013), Park University (2013), and Southern New Hampshire University (2013) all provide partial scholarships to any members of the military who have had their educational aid cut due to federal cutbacks. Methodist University (2013) is even providing free introductory courses while Drury University (2013) is allowing deferred payment plans for service members in direct response to federal policy changes.
Summers (2004) postulates that many of the aid and discounting programs do yield positive results in terms of increasing revenue as well as full-time enrollment. However, there has to be careful consideration given to the strategic policies being used in order to manage enrollment effectively. For example, if tuition is indeed going to increase, there must be a calculated rate increase in institutional aid.
However, is this model viable for all PNFP institutions? Summers (2004) states this is not always the case. Many of the institutions used in his study have the necessary resources in order to eat any extraneous costs which may derive from making any radical changes to aid and tuition adjustments. Additionally he suggests that there are some risks involved when trying to increase the rate of tuition along with the amount of aid. Determining where to package additional aid, marketing those changes to students, and re-calculating finances in the case that enrollment goals are not met must be considered.
Despite the cuts in costs and the additional resources put into scholarships and tuition discounts, private institutions must still have to battle the issue of maintaining a specific brand awareness level and marketing strategy in order to recruit students. On average, private colleges in the 2010 - 2011 enrollment cycle spent $2,185 dollars on each newly enrolled student. In comparison, public four-year colleges spent about 80% less on each student ($457) and two year public colleges 95% ($108) (Noel-Levitz, 2011), leaving PNFPs with a unique budgetary challenge to not only spend money on pure recruiting strategy, but they must also provide for many prospective students a much more developed and enticing aid package.
As previously mentioned, many PNFP budgets have seen cuts in virtually every area of the college in order to preserve institutional solvency. However, in terms of recruitment and marketing, money spent to bring in new students has remained steady and in some cases increased following the 2007 recession. For example, over the course of a four-year span (2007 - 2011) private colleges have actually increased the cost per student by almost $250 dollars (Noel-Levitz, 2011).
In addition to pure recruitment costs for marketing and recruitment initiatives, materials, and programs, many PNFPs have to account for the amount of personnel involved in institutional outreach. Noel-Levitz (2011) reports that per enrolled full-time student at a private college or university there is also a much smaller ratio of employee to student - 1:33. Meaning for every 33 student enrolled representative is needed. In comparison, four-year public institutions had a ratio of 1:117 and two-year publics 1:328 and in the highest 75th percentile that ratio balloons to 1:567.
Burrell (2008) supports Noel-Levitz's research by urging college administrators to develop strong marketing mindsets at the institutional level in order to maintain an accurate brand presence and in turn, financial vitality. This includes having a strong grasp on the shifts in demographic enrollment trends which emphasize a more diverse prospective student body and a growing group of students who react to various marketing techniques. Otherwise, private colleges and universities may be targeting inaccurate markets which are either focused on other colleges or have rapidly decreased.
Burrell (2008) provides several examples of this approach. He describes the plight of PNFP - Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Virginia which dealt with the struggle of a decreasing enrollment and consequently a diminishing budget. In order to counteract this trend the school expanded its reach to various parts of the country with higher Mennonite populations. EMU also expanded its reach into the secular arena by creating a masters programs in conflict transformation. Ultimately, this created new streams of revenue to a broader audience as well as increase the branding of the school.
Beyond revenue streams created and perpetuated by student enrollment, colleges and universities seek to control pricing, provide scholarships, develop academic programs, and institute academic initiatives. So, what financial tools are utilized to expand a school's reach beyond tuition-dependent measures? Primarily, institutions develop expansive investment funding through a collection of carefully implemented donations known as endowments (University of Albany, 2013). |
In essence, donors can develop their own endowment in order to ensure that their gift and it's predetermined goals is completed perpetuity or if they want to make a donation to the university as a whole, there is usually a general endowment set up by the institution. Typically, an endowment is not spent at one time by the institution. This ensures, if invested properly, that money given to a college is utilized for long a long period of time and continually works to further a schools mission through monetary means (University of Albany, 2013).
Typically, the amount yielded by an endowment is calculated on a yearly basis. Aside from cash resources, donors may also gift other revenue-generating mechanisms such as stocks or bonds. Each year endowment managers appropriate a certain percentage of the total endowment for use by the institution. From there colleges are able to forecast the financial vitality of the school and the principle amount of money is then re-invested to develop further funding for future fiscal cycles (University of Albany, 2013).
Increasingly important is an institutions ability to propagate and develop an effective endowment portfolio as it helps to dictate an institution's ability to maintain a college or universities' mission. Healthy investment opportunities have the ability to increase enrollment, develop new streams of revenue, and allow endowment funds to stay in safe investment opportunities (Haight, Engler, & Smith, 2006). Cardarella (2006) calls this short credit.
In a short credit environment the goal is to increase funding into investment opportunities but developing an expectation of lower than normal returns. Although this may be counteractive to the concurrent belief that a less than stable investment environment is worth the risk with the prospective yields, Cardarella (2006) provides the rebuttal that as markets expand internationally, a safe investment should create higher dividends. Beyond the investment portfolio, schools still have a role to play in their response to endowments.
Johnson (2010) describe the practice of institutional dependency on endowments. Primarily, this involves the overuse of endowment funds to manage the day to day operations of the institution. Although, this strategy will work if the college is need of cash flow for the purpose of payroll or developing new financial aid packages it can create levels of hardship during times of economic downturn.
Harvard University, for example, boasts the highest donor level of any private college with a current endowment of $30.7 billion dollars (Harvard University, 2012). Following the 2007 economic downturn, the college saw that number shrink to $25.5 billion from an even higher number of $36.6 billion (Johnson, 2010). In turn, this led to a 2008 budget shortfall of $200 million dollars and a hiring freeze on all non-essential positions (Go, 2008). Johnson (2010) states that while Harvard is heavily dependent on its endowment to lead many institution-wide initiatives and would be able to operate for many years to come, the university's post-recession issues signifies what can happen to even the most solvent of schools if donation-investments falter.
Another striking concern private institutions is the consequences of faltering endowments. For example, Antioch College, a 150 year old PNFP institution announced in 2007 that due to financial insecurity they would have to close. Looking deeper into their plight, the institution had a decreasing endowment which totaled close to $36 million dollars. Because several bad investments were made, the college was only able to appropriate smaller proportions of money and in turn facilities began to decay, enrollment began to fall, and revenue sources diminished (Lerner, Schoar, & Wang, 2008).
Although Antioch is an extreme example of the negative consequences of poor or unfortunate investing strategies it does provide other private colleges with a cautionary tale about the overreaching impact of endowments ( Lerner, Schoar, & Wang, 2008). However, the inverse example does exist. Combined the top 200 colleges in America control close to $233 billion dollars in assets through a variety (Haight, Engler, & Smith, 2006).
In terms of PNFP colleges, there was strong growth among investments from the period of 1993 to 2005 with endowment increases of 6.3% ( Lerner, Schoar, & Wang, 2008). However, much in the same way that the recession has led to major cuts at private institutions, endowments have also been affected the downturn in the economy. Clark (2009) reports that in the 18 months following the financial fallout of 2007 endowment returns fell by nearly 25% while the stock market itself decreased by closer to 40%, leaving many to think that although the educational investments were concerning, they could have been much worse.
PNFPs provide a unique alternative to the public college setting by (in theory) providing smaller class sizes, a more close knit community, highly qualified faculty and staff, as well as in many cases a focus on graduate and undergraduate research. Additionally, despite the criticism of higher costs at private colleges a large group of students who attended these institutions are eligible for various forms of financial aid - institutional or otherwise. Higher costs also signifies a commitment to other initiatives such as faster graduation rates as well more money spent to educate the student - nearly twice as much as their public counterparts (Sage Scholars, 2013).
This also suggests that private schools student are more likely to graduate and do so in a faster period of time. For example, in the state of Indiana private college attendees were 90% more likely to graduate in four-years than those who attended state universities. Ultimately, this means that the cost disparity between public and private becomes less due to the faster completion times at PNFPs (Sage Scholars, 2013).
However, this does not mean private colleges and universities exist without their own sets of problems. Ehrenberg (2013) and Kaufman and Woglom (2008) both suggest that PNFPs are for the most part working under inefficient and archaic models of funding and financing. Lerner, Schoar, & Wang (2008) and Johnson (2010 )describe the risks involved with the ineffective management and utilization of endowment funds - a highly utilized resource to maintain a competitive edge. While Redd (2000) discusses the ramifications of over-awarding tuition discounts as it may disenfranchise certain minority groups as well as eat into institutional revenue.
Although NAICU (2013a) describes a vast array of institutions which run the gamut in terms of demographic makeup and administrative structure, each PNFP must be able to respond to the financial changes in the higher education environment. The great recession of 2007, for example serves as a recent model of what campus resources are tethered to outside economic factors (Desrochers & Kirshtein, 2012). Therefore, as Burrell (2008) emphasizes, private colleges and universities cannot remain stagnant if they want to maintain a certain level of financial solvency which allows them to effectively carry out their mission.
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