Latest Key Indicators Tool Shows Many CIC Colleges Are Less Dependent on Tuition

CIC released its latest Key Indicators Tool (KIT) benchmarking report to Institutional Member presidents this spring. The KIT provides customized five-year trend data on 20 institutional performance indicators related to student enrollment and progression, faculty composition and compensation, tuition revenue and financial aid, and institutional resources and expenditures. Both the KIT and its companion Financial Indicators Tool (FIT) benchmarking report (the latest version will be released in mid-summer 2019) are prepared in collaboration with the Austen Group with support from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

One of the KIT performance indicators is tuition dependency. This represents the percentage of total expenditures covered by an institution’s total net tuition revenue. (Net tuition revenue is defined as the institution’s total tuition and fee revenue minus institutional financial aid provided to students.) Independent institutions that are overly dependent on tuition revenue may risk financial difficulties—particularly if their enrollments decline over a period of years.

The most recent KIT report is based on the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System covering the 2012–2013 through the 2016–2017 academic years. In 2012–2013, the national median tuition dependency percentage was 61.6 percent (see figure below). By 2016–2017, it had dropped to 57.9 percent—a decrease of 3.7 percentage points. This pattern holds true for all regions in the KIT. The greatest decrease in the median tuition dependency percentage was in New England, which fell by 5.2 percentage points between 2012–2013 (64.4 percent) and 2016–2017 (59.2 percent). The smallest decrease was in the West region, which fell by 2.4 percentage points between 2012–2013 (60.1 percent) and 2016–2017 (57.7 percent).

A decrease in tuition dependency signals that an institution has increased alternative revenue streams, such as by developing public-private partnerships, renting out underutilized campus facilities, and boosting fundraising. In some cases, a decrease in tuition dependency may also have been the result of drawing on reserve funds or borrowing more to sustain operations. Thus tuition dependency data must be considered in relation to other institutional finance and enrollment data.

For more information about KIT and other CIC benchmarking services, view the website, or contact Lesley McBain, director of research projects, at

Tuition Dependency at Baccalaureate and Master's-Level Independent Colleges and Universities by Region

Line Graph: Tuition dependency for six regions and nationally across five academic years  

Notes: Data in figure are presented as medians; n=694.

Source: 2018 Key Indicators Tool. Council of Independent Colleges. 2019.