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Higher Ed Inflation Slows in Fiscal 2020

January 4, 2021
 
 

Inflation for U.S. colleges and universities rose 1.9 percent in the 2020 fiscal year -- a smaller increase than the 3 percent jump in 2019 -- according to the Commonfund Higher Education Price Index.

The index tracks changes to eight higher education cost components: faculty salaries, administrative salaries, clerical costs, service employee costs, fringe benefits, utilities, miscellaneous services and supplies and materials costs. Year over year, costs rose in fiscal 2020 for six of the eight components.

Faculty salaries, which is the most heavily weighted of the components, rose 2.7 percent in fiscal 2020, compared with a 2.6 percent increase in fiscal 2019. Clerical costs increased 3.2 percent, compared with a 3.5 percent bump in 2019. Fringe benefits went up 2.9 percent, compared with 3.5 percent in fiscal 2019. Costs for service employees showed the greatest increase at 4 percent, the same rate as fiscal 2019.

For the first time in four years, costs declined compared with the previous year in two categories: utilities and supplies and materials. Supplies and materials costs fell 3.5 percent. Utility costs fell 15.7 percent in fiscal 2020. Utility costs have been highly volatile in recent years.

Administrative salaries increased 1.5 percent in fiscal 2020. Miscellaneous services increased 2.8 percent.

The report reveals some of the financial effects of the pandemic. But the full effects won’t be reflected in those data until the 2021 report, according to Commonfund.

Commonfund is an investment management firm focused on the nonprofit sector. It manages $24.5 billion in assets for 1,300 clients. The firm's education and research arm, the Commonfund Institute, calculates the Higher Education Price Index, sometimes called HEPI.

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