Editor’s note: This tool’s data and its accompanying text is periodically updated with the most recent data available. They were last updated on January 14, 2022 with the fiscal year 2018 data from the IPEDS Finance Survey.

This tool shows how much a school spends on student instruction—that is, what they invest in the faculty and resources required to offer coursework—relative to what a student pays in tuition and fees. Think of it as an estimate of the “bang for your tuition buck” for every college and university in the country.

Why does instructional spending matter? Instructional spending matters because it’s a useful proxy for the educational value being provided to students. In general, the more a school invests in teaching and instruction (as opposed to things like marketing and shareholder returns), the more students are learning, and the better prepared they are for future success. However, low spending amounts don’t always mean that schools are offering little education or low-quality instruction. Some schools, such as online colleges, have lower faculty overhead costs. Other schools spend more on student support services, such as career counseling, which are not included in instruction totals, but are still important investments in students. The instructional spending amounts reported in this tool were calculated based on schools’ reported instructional spending divided by funds covering tuition and fees. In a small number of cases, a school’s instructional spending ratio is negative. This can occur for a few reasons, but, counterintuitively, a primary driver of negative instructional spending ratio is a situation where a school spends more money on offsetting the cost of tuition than they collect in actual tuition and fee dollars from students. Most schools in this situation are those heavily reliant on various internal and external grant funds.

So how do I use the calculator? What’s a “good” spending number? There’s no percentage that will guarantee a quality education. There are, however, revealing trends when comparing public and nonprofit schools (which tend to spend more on instruction) with for-profit schools (which spend less on instruction on average). Some schools spend more than $1.00 for every tuition dollar collected because of access to state and local operating subsidies, donated funds, or other sources of revenue. Instructional spending is just one indicator—albeit an important indicator—for students and their families to consider when making decisions about higher education.

Why do some schools show additional information provided by the institution? The spending amounts listed are based on schools’ 2018 financial reporting to the U.S. Department of Education. Any school can provide additional information to help the public interpret spending levels. If provided, that information will appear in the search result. If you are a representative from a college or university and would like to provide more information, please contact Stephanie Hall at [email protected].