SHEF’s analytic methods are designed to make basic data about higher education finance as comparable as possible across states and over time. Toward that end, financial indicators are provided on a per student basis (using FTE enrollment as the denominator), and the raw state-level data provided are modified using three adjustments:
- Cost of Living Index (COLI) accounts for cost of living differences among the states;
- Enrollment Mix Index (EMI) adjusts for differences in the mix of enrollments across institutions with different costs across the states (e.g., at community colleges or more expensive research institutions); and
- Higher Education Cost Adjustment (HECA) adjusts for inflation over time.
Sector-level data do not need to be adjusted by EMI, but are adjusted by COLI.
Each SHEF adjustment is expressed in index values where the national average equals 1.00. In the SHEF report, revenues per FTE are divided by the SHEF adjustment to obtain the adjusted value. For example, presume that State X has an actual revenue per FTE of $8,000 and has an above-average cost of living. If the cost of living index for State X equals 1.05, its revenue per FTE adjusted for COLI would be $7,619 ($8,000/1.05).
These adjustments are described in more detail on the SHEF Data Definitions page.
In most cases, data in the SHEF report are modified using two adjustments that facilitate interstate comparisons:
- The Cost of Living Index (COLI) accounts for cost of living differences among the states.
- The Enrollment Mix Index (EMI) adjusts for differences in the mix of enrollments across institutions with different costs across the states (e.g., at community colleges or more expensive research institutions).
When state data are presented individually, however, they are often not adjusted for COLI and EMI.
Data in the SHEF report are traditionally adjusted using the Higher Education Cost Adjustment (HECA), an inflation adjustment developed by SHEEO to better benchmark the inflation experienced by colleges and universities. Because the best available data suggest that faculty and staff salaries account for roughly 75% of college and university expenditures, the HECA is based on a market basket with two components—personnel costs (75% of the index) and non-personnel costs (25%). SHEEO recommends use of the HECA when analyzing higher education finance from a system-, state-, or institution-level perspective.
However, for comparisons from the student or consumer perspective, SHEEO suggests using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U). The CPI-U is based on goods and services purchased by the typical urban consumer. Colleges and universities spend their funds on different things, mostly (about 75%) on salaries and benefits for faculty and staff; and lesser amounts on utilities, supplies, books and library materials, and computing. Trends in the costs of these items don’t necessarily run parallel to the average price increases of the goods and services tracked by the CPI-U. The student, parent, or student-aid provider may want to assess higher education prices compared to how much consumers pay for other goods and services.
A third inflation adjustment is sometimes used in higher education. The Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) directly tracks changes in the prices paid by colleges and universities. The Commonfund Institute currently maintains annual updates to the HEPI. While the HEPI has been useful, it has not been universally accepted because it is a privately developed analysis, and one of its main components, average faculty salaries, has been criticized as self-referential. SHEEO does not currently publish the HEPI index, but it is available at www.commonfund.org.
The SHEF data collection includes additional variables listed in the data definitions but not included in the downloadable datasets. In most cases, these variables are not included online due to data limitations. For example, SHEF collects dual or concurrent enrollment appropriations and FTE enrollment information, but this data is currently only available in a handful of states and years. Please contact the SHEEO staff for access to these and other data.
In addition to the SHEF sector-level data for 2019 and 2020 found throughout the website, SHEEO has limited data split by sector (two-year and four-year) for the years 2012 through 2018. The historical data collection includes total state support, net tuition revenue, and net FTE enrollment by sector. Please contact the SHEEO staff for access to these data.
SHEEO does not have institution-level data on higher education revenues and enrollment. The best source for institution-level data is the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
The SHEF report for the most recently completed fiscal year is released annually in March or April. In addition, preliminary data on total state support for the current or most recently completed fiscal year is released every January through the Grapevine report, a partnership between SHEEO and Illinois State University.
Yes, data providers can update their previously submitted data at any time. Every year, most states make small adjustments as more accurate data become available. For this reason, you should never simply add a new year of data to a previously downloaded dataset.
Data Collection Process
The SHEF data collection would not be possible without the support of SHEEO’s member agencies who provide the underlying data for the report each year. In several states, we collect data from multiple sectors or agencies. SHEF data collection begins in the fall as most state’s fiscal years end. States first report information for the Grapevine survey, which collects projected information about state funds for the coming fiscal year. In most states, SHEEO’s member agencies provide the SHEF data. In a handful of more decentralized states, SHEEO works with multiple state agencies to collect data on state support, financial aid, tuition revenue, and enrollment. See data provider resources for more information and for a full list of the fiscal year 2020 data providers.
Once states submit their data for the Grapevine and SHEF surveys, SHEEO begins to review and confirm the data. SHEF data are cross-checked, where possible, with information from the U.S. Census, IPEDS, NASBO, NASSGAP, and other sources. Data providers are asked to verify our final metrics and explain any large changes in their data. In a handful of states, SHEEO staff review budget documents and annual reports to collect data not available to our members.
Education appropriations are a measure of state and local support to public higher education institutions and include state-funded financial aid to students attending those institutions. To isolate general operating appropriations from education appropriations, simply subtract the sum of state public financial aid from education appropriations.
SHEEO removes all state appropriations for research, agricultural extension and experiment stations, and hospitals and medical schools (RAM) from the measure of education appropriations. Similarly, tuition revenue and full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment for students attending medical schools are not included in net tuition revenue and net FTE enrollment. This exclusion is intended to make states more comparable. For example, some states do not have a medical school, while others have several. Including RAM funds would distort comparisons across states with a disparate number of research, land-grant, and medical schools. If you plan to use the SHEF data with state RAM funding included, you should also include medical FTE enrollment and medical school tuition revenues.
Net tuition revenue excludes state public financial aid and institutional aid (discounts and waivers). However, net tuition revenue does include federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and includes both federal and private student loans.
The SHEF data exclude capital appropriations, but data elements on capital appropriations will be available in future editions of the SHEF report.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) includes institution-level data on finance, financial aid, and FTE enrollment. There are a number of differences between the two data collections. For example, SHEF-calculated metrics exclude all medical FTE enrollment, tuition revenue, and appropriations, while IPEDS data include that information. While SHEF and IPEDS both include data on local appropriations, SHEF does not include local grants or contracts. In addition, some differences arise because IPEDS data are tied to institutional accounting standards, while SHEF data largely come from state appropriations bills. Please contact the SHEEO staff for more specific information about the differences between the SHEF and IPEDS data collections.
SHEF follows the fiscal year in each state. In most states, the fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. This means that, for example, fiscal 2019 refers to the period from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. The corresponding academic year began in the fall of 2018. A few states have a different fiscal year:
- New York, April 1 to March 31
- Texas, September 1 to August 31
- Alabama and Michigan, October 1 to September 30
Nineteen states have a biennial budget, which means their appropriations are set every other year. The remaining 31 states set their budgets annually. SHEF tracks this information for every agency that provides data.
Enrollment data used in SHEF are for the corresponding academic year. For example, fiscal year 2020 includes enrollment data for academic year 2019-2020.
Tribally controlled institutions (TCUs) are primarily federally funded, and only receive minimal state appropriations in a few states. For this reason, their funding and FTE enrollment are not included in SHEF.
Sector-level education appropriations are reported for two-year and four-year institutions separately. Users may note that the sum of two- and four-year education appropriations does not equal state-level education appropriations. There are two differences in education appropriations between the state and sector levels: The state-level data include agency funding and federal stimulus funds, while sector-level data do not. Additionally, in a few states, some uncategorizable state support and uncategorizable financial aid could not be allocated to either sector.
During the 2008 Great Recession and 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and recession, the federal government provided one-time funding to states which could be allocated to higher education. These funds were meant to stabilize state revenue sources and are thus included throughout the state-level metrics in the SHEF report. However, federal funding allocated directly to institutions is not included in SHEF data.
The following variables in the SHEF report include federal stimulus funding for the years 2008-2012 and 2020: total state support, total state and local support, education appropriations, general public operations, and total education revenue. Federal stimulus funds are not counted as part of sector-level education appropriations or general operating appropriations because of the way these data are collected.