Cost of the College Experience. A comparison study of ten peer institutions’ student services expenditures and retention rate. Rachel Underwood Valdosta State University. Executive Summary. Rationale
Cost of the College Experience
A comparison study of ten peer institutions’ student services expenditures and retention rate
Valdosta State University
As we approach increasing budget cuts, it is becoming even more important that educators know which areas of our funds are most needed to meet our institutional goals. Constant and consistent assessment of spending, programming, and outcomes is needed to determine whether we are meeting our students’ needs and where our money can best be spent to do this. Retention rate is the percentage of an institution’s previous year student population that returned the following year. While there will always be unpredictable reasons that students cannot return to their college or university, an institution should spend money on things that research has proven to keep students returning.
Student services is the operational budget category that includes expenses on all services offered to students at that institution. Under this umbrella category falls many programs that help to create a “life” for students outside of academia while in college. These services are created to help students and to keep them returning to campuses year after year. Student Fees are monetary charges students pay with their tuition every semester they take classes (this may differ depending on student status i.e.- full or part time). Since both of these variables directly affect students, shouldn’t the benefits be directly felt by students?
This report compared data on the expenditures on student services, the fees paid with tuition, and retention rates at Valdosta State University and its ten peer institutions across the country from 2005 to 2008. The data used came from information reported to the IPEDS Data Center3. The data was compared and ranked per year and on a four year average with this report using the average figures. In the four years between 2005 and 2008, VSU spent an average of $817 per student per year on Student Services and students paid an average of $1,028 per student per year in student fees, with the average retention rate being 73%.
The research determined that VSU ranked as having the seventh highest average amount of student fees (per student), the ninth highest average amount spent on student services (per student), and the third highest average retention rate among the eleven evaluated institutions. These findings lead to a recommendation of increasing money spent on student services to increase retention rate according to the trends set by those peer institutions having the highest retention rates. The Summary Analysis found later in this report details the actual comparison figures used for making this recommendation.
With the current economic status of our country, discussions on the importance of having a budget and conserving money are popular in every field, but especially those that receive federal funding. Public institutions of higher education, independent of size and location, fall into this category and are finding themselves in constant revisions of their budgets and spending allocations.
Valdosta State University (VSU) is a public, four year college located in South Georgia. that enrolled a total of 12,391 students in the fall of 20096. VSU enrolled a total of 12,391 students this past fall, establishing a 15% increase in enrollment rate from fall 2008 to fall 20095. After the celebration of our successful enrollment rate increase, we must then consider the next most important factor: keeping that new 15% here another year!
Research consistently shows a positive correlation between student life on college and university campuses and retention of students. We, as educators, fully understand the need for student services, but can we afford to continue increasing spending on these services enough to keep more students returning? Now that budgets are as tight as ever, what actions should be taken to make sure the money we do have is being spent in the most beneficial way for our institutions and more importantly, our students.
This report strives to help answer the following questions:
Epstein, J. (2010, February 9). Anything But Studying. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/02/09/california1
“In a survey conducted on all nine of the university’s undergraduate campuses in the spring of 2008 and completed by 63,600 students, students on average reported getting six-and-a-half hours of sleep each night and spending 41 hours a week on social and leisure activities. Meanwhile, students said they spent a little more than 28 hours each week combined on class and homework.” (Epstein, 2010, ¶ 2)
Moltz, D. (2009, April 23). A Culture of Assessment. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/04/23/hofstra2
Hofstra University, located in Long Island, New York, began using survey instruments to assess their campus programs and services. When administrators first began giving the survey, most of the statistics were low and students’ were reporting unhappiness with their “overall college experience” and a “lack in a campus community”. Since then, Hofstra has implemented many adjustments and are already seeing a positive change in student life.
Supiano, B. (2009, August 9). A Full-Time Focus on Retention in New Orleans. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from: http://chronicle.com/article/A-Full-Time-Focus-on-Retention/47961/4
Loyola University New Orleans is looking to battle the retention fight by creating a position dedicated solely to the cause. Rev. Jim Caime became the university's first ever “retention coordinator and in this article he specifically cites areas that should focus on retention as: enrollment management, student affairs, and academic affairs.
The research questions were addressed using the following process:
1First, I determined which institutions would be most beneficial to compare to VSU. I decided it would be most beneficial to know how VSU compared to its Peer institutions (institutions across the country that have similar institution characteristics) as determined by the VSU Office of Strategic Research and Analysis5.
2. Next, I determined which variables would be most appropriate to compare in order to best answer the research questions. The variables I compared were expenditures on student services (per student/ per year), amount of student fees charged (per student/per year), and the retention rate for each institution (per year).
3. I then gathered the data needed for each institution from the years of 2005 to 2008 using IPEDS Data Center All data used represented only the total undergraduate population at each institution.
4. After finding all the needed information, I organized it into workable spreadsheets and calculated the appropriate figures using Microsoft Excel.
5. Then, I examined and compared the data per year (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) and on an average of all four years.*Arizona State University-West’s average figures are only three years (2005-2007) because their data from 2008 did not appear on IPEDs.
6. Finally, I determined and reported all findings, recommendations and limitations using a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. All figures used in the results and analysis are per student and drawn from an average.
Icons courtesy of VSU Strategic Research and Analysis Website5
On average,Salem State College had the highest amount of student fees ($5,179) and Fitchburg State College spent the most on student services ($4,764). Valdosta State University (VSU) held the seventh highest student fees ($1,028) and ninth highest amount spent on student services ($817).
The following bar graph illustrates the average comparison of money spent on student services and average mount of student fees charged with tuition. Student services and amount of fees compared by year can be found in the appendix of this report.
Bridgewater State College had the highest retention rate (76%) and the University of Central Oklahoma had the lowest (60%).Valdosta State University and Framingham State College both held the third highest retention rate (73%). Retention rate compared by year can be found in the appendix of this report.
Valdosta State University (in red) consistently ranked below six on both monetary categories, but shared the third highest average retention rate, as mentioned on the last slide.
The following table shows the average amount students paid in fees, average amount spent on student services, and the retention rate from 2005-2008, as well as the 11 institutions rankings for those variables.
The rankings are coded as follows, highest 1 – 11 lowest.
After examining and comparing data from all eleven institutions, the following was determined. Overall, there was a correlation between higher retention rates (rankings from 1-3) and high spending and high student fees. The research shows that institutions who spent more on both categories tended to have higher retention rates, with Arizona State University-West Campus being the only outlier. ASU-West ranked consistently low on student fees and amount spent on student services, but averaged the second highest retention rate. Examining certain limitations that were not looked at during this study may help to show why this university’s figures were so different from it’s peer institutions.
Salem State College consistently ranked the highest in student fees from 2005 to 2008, but only held the fifth highest retention rate. Fitchburg State College consistently ranked the highest in amount spent on student services (except for in 2008) and held the second highest retention rate. When looking at the difference in these two trends, there seems to be a more direct correlation between the amount of an institution’s budget spent on student services and having a high retention rate than between amount of student fees charged and retention rate.
Valdosta State University consistently ranked seven or below on all compared categories, except retention rate. VSU shared the third highest retention rate with Framingham State College (73%), even though they had a constant decrease in retention rate from 2005-2008 (see appendix). While this does not follow the trend mentioned in the first paragraph, it does however give us good insight into the best options for increasing our retention rate. Recommendations are listed on the following slide.
What do all these rankings mean for VSU?
Based on the results of this study, VSU should not increase student fees to increase retention rate among undergraduate students. The correlation between amount of student fees charged and a high retention rate is not strong enough to implement an increase in fees for this purpose. For example, VSU and Framingham State shared the third highest retention rate of the eleven peer institutions, but Framingham charged over $3,000 more per student in student fees than VSU. Fitchburg State College charged the third highest student fees and Arizona State University- West consistently charged the lowest amount of fees, yet they both shared the second highest retention rate among the institutions. When looking at the per year comparison as well, VSU consistently increased their student fees from 2005 to 2008, but they saw a steady decrease in retention rate, showing the need to implement other methods to see results in increasing retention rate.
After looking at the results, the average amount spent on student services correlates more directly with a higher retention rate than amount of student fees. For example, Bridgewater State College, who had the highest retention rate, averaged the most spending on student services. In addition, Bridgewater State College also had a steady increase in retention rate from 2005-2008 (see appendix). Fitchburg State College, who held the second highest retention rate, consistently spent the most on student services (except in 2008). VSU should instead focus more on increasing the percentage of the university budget that is spent on student services based on the previously mentioned trends. Whether this is drawing more income from other budget categories or looking into alternative ways to fund student services (i.e drawing from foundation money, etc.), the need to increase money spent on this area is present.
Certain institution characteristics that were not factored into this study could have limited the findings of the research. These limitations are listed below:
In 2005,Salem State College had the highest amount of student fees ($4,684) and Fitchburg State College spent the most on student services ($1,642). Valdosta State University held the seventh highest student fees ($840) and eighth highest amount spent on student services ($761) in 2005.
In 2006,Salem State College ranked had the highest amount of student fees ($5,120) and Fitchburg State College spent the most on student services ($1,749). Valdosta State University held the seventh highest student fees ($930) and ninth highest amount spent on student services ($725) this year.
In 2007,Salem State College had the highest amount of student fees ($5,360) and Fitchburg State College spent the most on student services ($1,844). Valdosta State University held the seventh highest student fees ($1,080) and ninth highest amount spent on student services ($731) in 2007.
In 2008,Salem State College had the highest amount of student fees ($5,550) and Bridgewater State College spent the most on student services ($2,006). Valdosta State University held the seventh highest student fees ($1,260) and eighth highest amount spent on student services ($1,051) this year.
*Data not available for 2008
The following table shows the institutions’ retention rate by year from 2005-2008, with the exception of ASU-West in 2008. It is interesting to see that even though VSU held the third highest average retention rate, the rate per year has steadily decreased since 2005. Bridgewater State College, who held the highest average retention rate, held a steady increase in retention rate throughout the four years examined.