Optimism on Financial Future of Schools –

Despite a sluggish economy, higher education leaders are optimistic about the financial future of their schools, according to a new survey by KPMG, LLP – a U.S. audit, tax, and advisory services firm.

Findings in KPMG’s Higher Education Outlook Survey reveal that 57% of college and university leaders predict their institution will be in better financial shape in five years, and 58% believe they will gain or retain their share of research funding.

However, 84% reported being concerned or somewhat concerned about their institution’s ability to fund future capital investments and 66% are concerned about their ability to maintain current enrollments.

Responses differed between private and public institutions regarding various issues. As far as student enrollment, 52% of private college leaders were somewhat concerned about maintaining enrollment compared to 37% of public college leaders. Additionally, 45% of public college leaders and 30% of private college leaders said their school’s admission standards are higher than they were five years ago.

The report also analyzed the impact of higher education’s government cuts. Increasing tuition was the most popular response, at 53%, for measures institutions have adopted or are considering as a result of cuts. This was followed by delaying capital projects (45%), offering more online courses (35%), and elimination of programs that reflect less demand (34%).

Again, public and private administrators had differing opinions. Forty percent of public college leaders said they were considering adding more online courses, compared to 28% of private college leaders. At 48% (63% public college vs. 25% private college), state funding cuts was cited as the main reason for tuition increases, followed by competitive pressure to hire better faculty (37%) and cuts in federal student aid (36%).

“Tuition increases remain a huge issue for all institutions and these results shed light on what’s causing increases and what other steps these colleges are taking to deal with cuts in government funding,” KPMG audit partner David Gagnon said in a press release. “For instance, it seems likely students will see more online course offerings as budget pressures continue.”

The majority of public and private administrators can agree that improving retention and graduation rates is important, with 61% stating they were doing this to address issues such as cost, quality, and access of higher education. Additionally 41% are focusing on more innovative approaches such as online education, without compromising quality and 41% are reassessing their curriculum to make sure it adequately prepares graduates for the workplace.

The survey also revealed the benefits of schools using social media – such as Facebook and Twitter – with 53% of respondents stating social media helped the school’s marketing/branding, and 52% stating social media allowed for more immediate communication from leadership to students.

The Higher Education Outlook Survey was conducted in May 2012 and reflects the responses of 102 senior officers in higher education.

Follow Valerie Jones on Twitter @ValerieJonesCMN