Higher ed inflation doubles

The inflation rate for colleges and universities more than doubled over the last fiscal year, according to a study released Wednesday by the Commonfund Institute.

The Higher Education Price Index, which measures inflation in higher education, was 2.3 percent in fiscal year 2011, which ended June 30. In fiscal year 2010, the index was only 0.9 percent. The jump in the price index comes after several years of declining inflation, said William Jarvis ’77, managing director of the Wilton, Conn. investment firm the Commonfund Institute.

“The real story here is that in the last three years there has been disinflation, which is a slowing in the inflation rate, and sometimes deflation, which is an actual decrease in prices,” Jarvis said. “This year, that has stopped and turned around.”

The price index accounts for factors including salaries of faculty, administrative, clerical and service employees, benefits and utilities. Of those factors, Jarvis said that salaries and benefits are the most heavily weighted.

Colleges and universities often use the Higher Education Price Index when budgeting, setting tuition and calculating spending rates, Jarvis said.

Inflation in higher education typically outpaces that of other goods and services purchased by consumers, which is measured by the Consumer Price Index. Jarvis said the Higher Education Price Index traditionally exceeds the consumer index by 1 percent. In the latest fiscal year, he said, the two indices were closer than usual: The CPI finished at 2 percent in fiscal year 2011.

The Higher Education Price Index has been calculated annually since 1983, according to the Commonfund Institute.

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