College Costs
October 22, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

How much of the budget for the average American college or university is allocated to salaries & benefits?

This seems like such an easy data point to find, but for some reason, I can't find any reliable and comprehensive information.
posted by chara to Education (6 answers total)
Whatever you find, it won't be very helpful. Many faculty's salaries and benefits don't come from state dollars. It comes from grants.
Also there are 'secret' perks - research funds, conference funding, labs...
posted by k8t at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might be able to find that in the IPEDs Data Center if you poke around a bit.
posted by ghharr at 10:48 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're talking about their annual operating budget and not allowing for one-time expenses like new buildings, I'd say that it's the vast majority. Probably something north of 70-80%. What else are they going to spend money on? They don't make stuff, so there's no inventory costs, and maintenance costs are really just wages most of the time.

But the observation that a lot of money at universities doesn't necessarily show up on their operating budget is a good one. Grants, special donations, outside finding, you name it: there's tons of ways for money to get spent without actually affecting the university's bottom line directly. So, for example, Department X might get a block of money from the institution every year. That block will show up on the university's accounting. But Department X may also benefit from a federal grant, two private grants, an endowment, and any number of other miscellaneous sources that may or may not be routed directly through the university, and even if they are, they may not show up on the institution's main budget books.

But regardless, however you count and no matter where the money comes from, the answer is going to be "Most of it." Like, almost all of it.
posted by valkyryn at 11:12 AM on October 22, 2012

I understand that it's "a lot". I'm looking for a ballpark percentage from a legitimate source. I tried IPEDS earlier and couldn't quite find what I was looking for.
posted by chara at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2012

I know almost nothing about how the budgeting at my university works, but the budget numbers are public:
. A quick calculation of the obvious salaries and benefits categories looks to be about 65%. This is a large, public, research university in CA, so may or may not be considered average.
posted by wsquared at 11:21 AM on October 22, 2012

IPEDS (mentioned by gharr above) is your source for this. I pulled a few numbers for a quick and dirty calculation. I do not know IPEDS in and out, so I may have made a mistake here. For 2008-9 (the last year with all of the relevant data) for US Public Institutions (includes everything from 4 year schools with postgraduate degrees to 2 year community colleges) I got the following (all numbers rounded to nearest million)

Mean values: 63 million on salaries, 19 million on benefits, 135 million in revenue = 61% expenditure on salaries and benefits
Median values: 18 million on salaries, 5 million on benefits, 42 million on revenues = 55% expenditure on salaries and benefits

These are problematic, back-of-the-envelope calculations, but assuming I didn't make a massive error your back-of-the-envelope answer is in the 55%-61% range. I was personally expecting something in the 70% range before I started.
posted by Tallguy at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2012

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