How Colleges Spend Money

ACTA’s one-of-a-kind higher education financial analysis tool,, makes it possible for institutions to evaluate their spending patterns and benchmark themselves against their peers.

Confronting the College Cost Explosion

For years, college costs have surged exponentially, and student debt has climbed to an all-time high. The fiscal model for private and public higher education is unsustainable, yet many institutions ramp up their tuition and administrative spending year after year. Helping higher education leaders and policymakers gain transparent access to data on college spending is paramount in confronting the national crisis.

ACTA’s is an innovative, free portal into a vast trove of information on spending at 1,500 public and private colleges and universities. Visitors can select specific colleges and instantly access eight years of their administrative and instructional spending patterns; compare them with other institutions in their peer groups; research student tuition, retention, and graduation rates; generate reports; and much more.

For over 10 years, ACTA has led calls for transparency and accountability in college spending, and has provided university boards with guidance to address rising costs. Our work extends from identifying best practices for measuring efficient building utilization to advice on academic program reviews. We analyze growth in administrative spending compared to instructional spending and help governing boards get a firm grasp on their institutional priorities.

For a view into how your college spends money, visit

Press Release


Crisis by the Numbers

Student loan debt has become the fastest-growing segment of U.S. household debt. Students are often forced to make tough financial decisions in order to afford an undergraduate degree, and many struggle to find a good-paying job once they have graduated.

  1. Tuition for a four-year public institution, adjusted for inflation, is 109% higher than it was 30 years ago.
  2. Between 2003–04 and 2023–224, average published tuition and fee prices rose by $820 (in 2023 dollars) at public two-year colleges, by $3,530 at public four-year institutions, and by $10,040 at private, nonprofit, four-year colleges and universities according to College Board.
  3. The average student debt balance has increased 41 percent since 2007 adjusted for inflation—the total now stands at $1.7 trillion.
  4. The average 2020 graduate with student loans is carrying over $43,000 in debt in 2023 dollars.
  5. Competition for less students is causing smaller schools to close or merge with other institutions. In the first 10 months of 2023, 14 non-profit colleges closed.
  6. An EY study found that higher education sector debt has been increasing by 4 percent each year between 2011 and 2019, exceeding the growth in enrollment, and therefor increasing the debt-per-full-time-student.
  7. Enrollment is expected to fall drastically in the next decade, putting additional pressure on already cash-strapped institutions.

What Trustees are Saying

“To face down the rising costs of college, those of us who serve on governing boards urgently need solid data, better analytics, and more transparency. Unfortunately, I don’t think boards are as prepared as we need to be in order to address this crisis. That’s why ACTA’s new website is so critical to helping us in this effort.”

—Heidi Ganahl, Regent, University of Colorado

“One of the things that surprised me when I started as a trustee was how little financial information was being automatically disseminated. The school may or may not agree, but I thought I contributed simply by saying, ‘Send us more information. We need to know more.’”

—Bruce Brown, former Trustee, Eastern University

“I contacted ACTA to understand how to develop transparency. I do feel transparency was lacking and you cannot have public trust without transparency in how you’re spending money.”

—Jan Sullivan, Chair, University of Hawaii System Board of Regents

“For me right now, the issue is how much debt it takes to graduate, which I say is sinful. We need to look at that more carefully. How do we educate young people without them struggling to have a good quality of living once they have graduated because they are trying to pay the debt that educated them? That’s a public issue as far as I’m concerned.”

—Delores Brisbon, former Trustee, Drexel University and Eastern University


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Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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