Update: How do universities spend money?

A breakdown of the percentages Oregon public universities spend on instruction and non-instructional items.

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High tuition is making it increasingly challenging for Americans to pursue higher education. As costs continue to increase, the amount of money universities spend on different services is under the microscope.

To see how universities spend their money, I looked at what three of the largest public universities in Oregon —Oregon State University, Portland State University and University of Oregon — spend on instruction and research versus other functions, including non-instructional items, as a percentage of their total expenses. (Data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System from 2015, the most recent data available.)


As a percentage of total expenses, Oregon State University spent the smallest portion on pure instruction (28%) in 2015. The largest portion of its expenses (31%) were for the combination of research and public service (such as expenses for public broadcasting and community service.) Portland State and University of Oregon both allocated 14% of total expenditures to research and public service. 

Portland State University spent the most on instruction as a percentage of its total expenses (36%). Its second largest expense was the combination of student services, academic support, and institutional support (21%), which includes expenses for non-instructional items, such as admissions, administrative and executive activities. As a proportion of total expenditures, Oregon State University spent the least of the three public universities on this category.

It should be noted that Oregon State University does a lot more research than Portland State and University of Oregon, and for this reason cannot be compared on a level playing field with the other public institutions, said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing at Oregon State University. And in many cases, research and instruction overlap.

“In Oregon State’s case, the university last year did $441 million in total research – more than all of Oregon’s other six public comprehensive universities combined (UO, PSU, OIT, EOU, SOU and Western). And more than OHSU. If you divided total university revenue by the amount spent on instruction (including $441 million in research grants), of course OSU’s percentage of instruction would be less than UO and PSU,” said Clark in an email.


Another category of expenditures is auxiliary enterprises, which include what universities spend on residence halls, food services, intercollegiate athletics and college unions. One quarter of University of Oregon’s 2015 expenses comprised these so-called auxiliary programs. Portland State spent 20% of its total expenditures of this category; Oregon State spent 18%.

Clarification: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that research and instruction categories often overlap.  

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