Nearly three-quarters of higher education leaders recently surveyed by FORVIS remain confident in the long-term financial health of their institutions despite ongoing headwinds in the industry that include rising costs, enrollment challenges and turbulent investment markets.
This and other findings are part of FORVIS' 2023 Annual Higher Education Outlook, released today. The Outlook report includes data based on a survey of administrators from more than 250 U.S. colleges and universities of all types and sizes.
FORVIS ranks among the top 10 public accounting firms in the country and its higher education practice is a leading provider of assurance, tax and advisory services to hundreds of client institutions nationwide.
“Institutions we work with are now heavily focused on turning one-time gains from the pandemic into positive economic momentum,” said Nick Wallace, higher education consultant and director at FORVIS, and lead author of the Outlook report. “Government funding helped boost schools’ financial statements in 2021 and 2022 but those sources are winding down and schools are still staring down the coming demographic cliff, among other issues.”
Key findings include:
- 69.7% of administrators agreed or strongly agreed they were confident in the financial stability of their institution in 5 years. The number rose to 76.2% for the 10-year time frame.
- Failure to grow enrollment was perceived as the primary financial risk (63% of all schools). Failure to make academic programs more profitable was the next-highest risk (19%). Failure to maintain investment return was third (9%).
- There were relatively few occasions (15.7% of those responding) where external auditors had expressed concern about ongoing operations. These “going concern” discussions happened more often in specialty graduate schools (31.3% of those responding) than in any other institution type. The lowest percentage was among public four-year institutions.
- Cutting expenses remained a popular financial sustainability tool, although most leaders recognize the revenue side of the economic model is where more focus is needed. The most common area where cuts were made was administrative expenses; academic expenses were the least likely to be cut. Of the 265 schools surveyed, 39% cut employee benefits with the majority of respondents (55%) representing private four-year institutions.
- Of the responding institutions, 30% said they had increased net tuition revenue over the last three years; 37% disagreed, while 33% saw little change.
“The onset of higher interest rates, higher inflation, volatile investment markets and a reduced sense of the value of higher education will continue to challenge the nation’s colleges and universities,” Wallace said. “The institutions that are on guard and nimble will be the ones best positioned to continue on a path to sustained prosperity.”
The FORVIS 2023 Higher Education Outlook is available for download at forvis.com.