Century Foundation Report Examines Instructional Spending at Colleges

April 3, 2019

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Report: Examining Instructional Spending for Accountability and Consumer Information Purposes

Author: John J. Cheslock, Pennsylvania State University

Source: The Century Foundation

A recent report from The Century Foundation examines how instructional expenditures at higher education institutions might be measured to better inform students about quality.

Prospective students are never perfectly informed about the quality of a college, notes author John J. Cheslock, but one simple and potentially informative measure is the share of an institution’s instructional revenues that are actually put toward instruction.

To capture this concept, Cheslock proposes four metrics of instructional spending, calculated from institution-level financial data publicly available via the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Each metric reveals wide variation across institutions in the ratio of instructional expenditures to instructional revenues. A sector-by-sector analysis shows that instructional-spending ratios are particularly low in the for-profit sector, where many institutions devote a considerable portion of their instructional revenues to marketing, recruitment, or other non-instructional purposes.

After reflecting on limitations in the IPEDS finances data, Cheslock considers how instructional spending ratios ought to be calculated, what ratios indicate inappropriately low instructional spending, and challenges that might arise if instructional spending ratios were used for accountability.

Click here to learn more and here to find your own institution’s metrics.

—Sam Imlay

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