Inflation for U.S. higher education institutions rises 5.2% in fiscal 2022; reaching highest annual rate since 6.0% in 2001
WILTON, Conn., December 15, 2022 – Data from the annual Commonfund Higher Education Price Index® (HEPI) show that inflation for U.S. colleges and universities rose 5.2 percent in fiscal year 2022, a sharp increase from the previous fiscal year’s 2.7 percent rate and the highest since 6.0 percent in FY2001. The FY2022 rate slightly exceeds 5.1 percent increases in fiscal years 2003 and 2006 and 5.0 percent in FY2008. (Fiscal year 2022 covers the period from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, and coincides with the budget year of most institutions of higher education.)
The highest annual increases since the inception of HEPI in FY1961 generally occurred in the latter 1970s and early 1980s. The highest rate, 10.7 percent, was recorded in FY1981; contiguous years before and after were the only other years above 9.0 percent. There have been numerous years, however, when the 5.0 percent level was equaled or exceeded although none since FY2008.
The lowest annual rate, an increase of 0.9 percent, occurred in FY2010. That year marked the beginning of a decade when annual increases in HEPI averaged less than 2.2 percent, followed by another year, FY2020, when the increase was just 1.9 percent.
Year over year, costs in FY2022 rose in all eight components tracked by HEPI (faculty salaries; administrative salaries; clerical salaries; service employee salaries; fringe benefits; miscellaneous services; supplies and materials; and utilities), with the most pronounced increases in utilities plus supplies and materials. The former rose 43.1 percent year over year, while the latter rose 21.5 percent. After those, the greatest increase was 8.6 percent in service employee costs. The lowest rate of increase was 2.1 percent in the category of faculty salaries, a rate of increase that, while modest by historical standards, was more than twice FY2021’s 1.0 percent rise. Utilities were also the category showing the highest annual rate of inflation in FY2021, when they increased 15.0 percent. Utilities have been highly volatile, however, as costs in that category declined 15.7 percent in FY2020. Rounding out FY2022 year-over-year changes are the following:
- Administrative salaries—up 2.9 percent
- Clerical costs—up 5.2 percent
- Fringe benefits—up 2.6 percent
- Miscellaneous services—up 4.3 percent
Fringe benefits was the only category to show a lower rate of increase compared with FY2021 (when it increased 4.1 percent). Figure 1 tracks annual changes in HEPI over the last five fiscal years.
HEPI is an inflation index designed specifically for use by institutions of higher education. Compiled from data reported by government agencies and industry sources, HEPI measures the average relative level in the price of a fixed market basket of goods and services purchased by colleges and universities each year through current fund educational and general expenditures, excluding research. A more accurate indicator of cost changes for colleges and universities than the Consumer Price Index (CPI), HEPI is used primarily to project future budget increases required to preserve purchasing power. With compilations dating back to 1961, HEPI offers more than 60 continuous years of higher education inflation data. It is an essential tool enabling schools to determine increases in funding necessary to maintain both real purchasing power and investment. In 2005, Commonfund Institute assumed responsibility for the index and the proprietary model used to calculate HEPI’s values from Research Associates of Washington, D.C.
Comparing HEPI and the CPI, while the former showed costs rising 5.2 percent in FY2022 costs rose in the latter by 7.2 percent. This marked the first time since FY2013 that the CPI exceeded HEPI, and even then, the difference was just 0.1 percent. Historically, the annual rate of increase in HEPI usually exceeds that of the CPI. For instance, since FY2000, HEPI has increased at a higher annual rate than the CPI 83 percent of the time. (Note: the CPI values reported by Commonfund in this annual HEPI report are based on fiscal year (July 1 through June 30) 12-month averages rather than the monthly (or point-to-point) CPI values usually reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
HEPI for FY2022 vs. a 5-Year Average
Figure 2 compares reported rates of change for FY2022 against their historical five-year averages. The principal observations follow:
- Of the eight cost factors, six were above their five-year average in FY2022, one was below and one was unchanged.
- The most heavily weighted HEPI component, faculty salaries, rose at the same 2.1 percent average rate as it has over the past five years. (Last year’s 1.0 percent increase was the lowest since FY2002.)
- Of the other three most heavily weighted HEPI components, cost increases in FY2022 were above their five-year average for two and lower for one. Costs were higher for administrative salaries (2.9 percent in FY2022 versus a five-year average of 2.1 percent) and clerical costs (5.2 percent versus 3.5 percent). The fringe benefits component was below its five-year average (2.6 percent versus 3.2 percent.)
- For FY2022, the greatest deviation from the five-year average was in the utilities component, which rose 43.1 percent compared with its five-year average of 9.0 percent.
- The other significant deviation was found in supplies and materials, which rose 21.5 percent compared with a five-year average of 6.0 percent.
- Of the remaining two components, service employee costs rose 8.6 percent in FY2022 versus a five-year average of 4.9 percent while miscellaneous services rose 4.3 percent in FY2022 versus a five-year average of 2.7 percent.
On a historical basis, utilities have been the most volatile component in the index. Over the past decade, this category showed double-digit price increases or decreases in six annual measurements and increases of 2.1 percent or less in three others. In 2014, the utilities component was relatively stable, though still elevated, increasing 8.1 percent.
Faculty Salaries Show Moderate Increase
Faculty salaries, the heaviest weighted component of overall HEPI, rose 2.1 percent nationwide in FY2022. While this was just over twice the 1.0 percent rate of increase reported for FY2021, it was moderately lower than the 2.3 percent average annual increase over the past 10 years.
Regionally, increases in faculty salaries ranged from a high of 3.2 percent in the New England region to a low of 0.1 percent in the East South Central region.
When data are viewed by type of institution, faculty salaries rose at a higher rate among private institutions than they did among their public counterparts—2.2 percent among the former versus 1.8 percent among the latter.
Looking more closely at public institutions, faculty salaries at doctorate-granting institutions increased 1.9 percent and 1.7 percent at master’s degree-granting institutions. Among two-year colleges, faculty salaries rose 0.1 percent. Turning to private institutions, doctorate-granting institutions saw the highest salary increases at 3.8 percent. Faculty salaries at private master’s degree-granting institutions increased 0.5 percent and at baccalaureate institutions they rose 0.7 percent. (Data for public two-year colleges and private baccalaureate institutions are not directly comparable for several reasons, notably the difference in the period of matriculation.)