Delta Cost Project Data
The Delta Cost Project makes data available in a number of different formats. The database that AIR uses to analyze trends and to produce reports and briefs can be accessed from the National Center for Education Statistics at http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/deltacostproject/.
In addition, AIR, along with Xcalibur, provides an interactive web-based data system that gives higher education stakeholders easy access to information on finance, performance, and enrollments for individual institutions, groups of institutions, or the nation. This can be accessed at http://www.tcs-online.org/Home.aspx.
Unlike other organizations in higher education, the Delta Cost Project is focused on the spending part of the college cost problem – how spending relates to access and success, and ways that costs can be controlled without compromising quality. This requires a change in traditional approaches to higher education finance – from a focus on inputs (enrollments) and efficiency measures (funding per student) -- to an integrated view of productivity, and how funds are used to ensure access, equity, and successful learning results.
Why a focus on higher education productivity?
The system of higher education finance that has evolved in the United States requires annual increases in unrestricted revenues that are unsustainable in the current environment. Institutional spending habits are part of the problem, in some cases aggravated by management practices that fail to integrate data about costs and outcomes. Spending increases are fueling pressure on student tuitions, exacerbating access and achievement gaps for low-income students, and contributing to rising public skepticism about spending priorities within higher education.
Ensuring access and increasing success in the future means increasing productivity – managing costs, keeping tuition increases low, and improving throughput for all students. Doing this will require clear and timely metrics; improved benchmarks; and better communication strategies both within higher education and to key public audiences. It will also require tackling deeply ingrained habits of work and beliefs about productivity that are barriers to change: that costs are too complicated to approach analytically; that more revenue means better quality (whether the money goes to core purposes or not); that cost (and tuition) increases are inevitable; that sectors have nothing to learn from one another (research universities can’t learn from community colleges, or non-profits and publics from proprietaries); and that improving productivity means sacrificing access or quality.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, productivity concepts and measures are basically foreign to higher education. “Productivity” instead typically is used to describe efficiency measures, such as costs per student or faculty teaching loads. These are legitimate measures of resource use, but they only describe the two-way relationship between inputs and funds – not how the resources are used to produce outcomes. Looking at productivity requires a shift from binary relationships to the triad between access and equity; quality of outputs; and funding.
The theory of change behind the Project’s work is that improving productivity will require: 1) translation of technical accounting information into benchmarks to support effective decision-making; 2) creation and marketing of successes in improving productivity; 3) changes in internal and external incentives to control costs; 4) better and more timely data about the relation between costs and outcomes; and 5) effective internal and external communication about costs, quality and accountability.