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About 25 percent of private nonprofit colleges and universities spent more than they earned in the 2017 fiscal year, though net tuition revenue grew for the first time in three years, Moody's Investors Service said in its annual look at median financial performance. The median revenue for private colleges was 2.4 percent, while the median expense growth was 3 percent.

Moody's said that less-wealthy small private colleges faced the most strain, noting continued divergence in the financial standing of institutions of different size and wealth. The increase in net tuition over all was driven mostly by the stronger pricing power of comprehensive private universities; a greater proportion of them increased their per-student net tuition by more than 6 percent this year than last year. But about a quarter of all private universities saw their net tuition revenue per student decrease in 2017.