Key Indicators Tool Shows Colleges Are Investing More in Student Instruction

While tuition and fees are a perennial news topic, the costs that institutions incur to educate students receive much less media attention. Over time, both instructional and infrastructure expenses (such as providing Wi-Fi connectivity across campus) that institutions must cover have risen dramatically. According to the latest available CIC Key Indicators Tool (KIT) data, in 2011–2012 the national median instructional expense per student at CIC institutions was $7,893. By 2015–2016, that number had risen to $8,876 per student, or an increase of 12.5 percent over five years with inflation accounting for roughly 7 percent of that increase. Total expenses per student rose by 11.6 percent over five years, illustrating that CIC institutions attempt to spend more on instructional costs than non-instructional costs. Although all costs are rising, institutions are investing more in instruction than in other areas.

CIC released the latest KIT benchmarking report to presidents of member institutions in May 2018. The KIT uses 20 indicators to measure institutional performance in student enrollment, retention, and progression to graduation; faculty composition and compensation; tuition revenue and financial aid; and financial resources and expenditures. The tool is designed to extend member institutions’ capacity for data-informed decision making.

The highest regional increase was in the Mid East region, where median instructional expense per student rose from $8,695 in 2011–2012 to $9,899 in 2015–2016 (see Figure). This increase of 13.8 percent over five years was 1.3 percentage points above the national median. New England, the region with the lowest increase and the only one with a slight decline since 2013–2014, still posted a 7.1 percent increase in median instructional expense per student over five years. Regional differences reflect differential labor costs and cost of living.

The KIT report is based on the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS). Confidential reports are prepared exclusively for each Institutional Member president by the Austen Group. Generous support by Ruffalo Noel Levitz makes them available at no cost to CIC Institutional Members. View more information about KIT and other CIC benchmarking services or contact Lesley McBain, director of research projects, at

Instructional Expense per Student, by Region

Line graph showing instructional expenses per student across six regions and the national median for five academic years beginning 2011-2012 and ending 2015-2016 (link opens larger version of image in new window)
Source: 2017 Key Indicators Tool. Council of Independent Colleges. 2018.