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Tuition Planning and Forecasting Best Practices in Higher Education: Everything You Need To Know

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With approximately 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States, there are thousands upon thousands of finance professionals staffed with the responsibility of tuition planning and forecasting.

Key Takeaways:

  • Review your historical data, educational trends and external factors when making assumptions to forecast more accurately
  • When working with a specific department or group of employees, use filters to narrow down your view
  • Use templates to assist your tuition planning, budgeting and forecasting

Accurate budgeting and resource allocation allow education professionals to create a better student experience, all while reducing the risk of a costly financial error. If this sounds like something you need, here are five tuition planning and forecasting best practices to implement immediately.

1. Start With Accurate Projections

With so many unknowns, it's natural to assume that tuition planning and forecasting is guesswork at best. But that doesn't have to be the case. When you start with accurate projections, there's a greater chance of everything else falling into place. 

Answering these questions will help you and your team make more accurate projections:

  • How many returning students are you expecting?
  • How many new freshmen will arrive on campus? 
  • How many students will live on campus? How many will live off campus?
  • How does tuition vary between undergraduate and graduate students? What's the enrollment for both categories?
  • What's the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition? What's the projected enrollment for each group?

The assumptions you make as a higher education finance leader depend on historical data, educational trends and external factors. 

For example:

  • Historical data: How many new freshmen has your school historically welcomed each fall? Has this number increased, decreased or remained relatively steady over the past five to 10 years?
  • Educational trends: Is enrollment declining as more students seek employment directly after graduating high school? Are you losing students to local community colleges as a result of the financial crunch?
  • External factors: The COVID-19 pandemic is the best example at the present time. For instance, many institutions are experiencing a decline in international student enrollment as students are unable or unwilling to travel to the United States for their education.

A careful review of the past will help you make more accurate projections today and in the future.

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2. Keep All Team Members on the Same Page

It's safe to say that you're not the only one with your hands on tuition planning, forecasting and budgeting. And for that reason, it's critical to keep all team members on the same page. Two things allow you to do this:

  • Gather data in real-time: Manual data gathering is a thing of the past. Just the same, sharing data via email or printed reports is no longer a viable solution. Gathering data in real time ensures that everyone on your team has access to the same numbers.

  • Dashboards and reporting: It's one thing to have access to real-time data but another thing entirely to share data-driven insights with the appropriate party, such as a board of governors. With advanced dashboard and reporting functions, it's simple to provide timely, accurate and easy-to-understand data and projections to anyone who requires it.

3. Use Filters When Applicable

There are times when a big-picture view is important. There are also times--such as when speaking with a specific department or group of employees--when you must narrow down your view. 

Here are some of the times when it makes sense to use filters:

  • To plan student enrollment by cohort.
  • For tuition planning by student type, such as in/out of state, domestic vs. international, undergraduate and graduate.
  • When assessing revenue streams based on your enrollment management plan.

Filters that are built into your templates allow you to make quick and accurate adjustments while also better digesting the data that's available to you.

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4. Model Multiple What-If Scenarios

When it comes to tuition planning and forecasting, modelling multiple what-if scenarios is an absolute must. Models should address factors such as student enrollment, registered credits, cost of tuition, cost of room and board, student fees, etc.

For example, models for student enrollment should be able to answer questions such as:

  • What will happen if enrollment numbers decline next semester? What departments will it affect the most? 
  • What impact does the potential for online learning have on enrollment?
  • Can a tuition increase offset a trend of declining enrollment?
  • Will student fees increase if enrollment declines? 
  • What areas of the budget will be looked at first if enrollment and tuition revenue decline? 

Without the right model in place, you're unable to answer these questions. Subsequently, if one or more of these situations comes to light, you won't be prepared to immediately and effectively manage it.

Reminder: You can plan with agility with our higher education reporting software. Change assumptions on the fly, review the results and analyse the financial and organisational implications.

5. Take Advantage of Templates

Templates save you time. Templates save you headaches. Templates keep all team members on the same page.

At Vena, we have multiple built-in templates to assist with tuition planning, budgeting and forecasting. Some of the most commonly used include:

  • Tuition templates
  • Student fee templates
  • Enrollment planning templates
  • Room and board planning template
  • OpEx and revenue planning template

And of course, you can use these templates as is or build a new one from the ground up to meet your specific requirements.


These five tuition planning and forecasting best practices will benefit you, your educational institution and its many students.

At Vena, we're aware of the many challenges facing higher education professionals. And that's why we created a complete solution for the higher education sector. With one solution for budgeting, forecasting and reporting--all with the flexibility of an Excel interface--you can quickly gain full control of circumstances while making more informed and confident decisions.

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