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Business Intelligence: Time to Tighten the Belt?

By Net Assets posted 23 days ago


Financial Management |

Initial reporting from BIIS data-collection platform reveals modest declines in schools’ financial footing. Is the trend real — or a temporary illusion?

By Mary Kay Markunas

From the March/April 2018 Net Assets

Are independent schools entering a new period of financial belt-tightening? Early indications from BIIS (Business Intelligence for Independent Schools), NBOA’s comprehensive data-collection platform that launched in October, point to that possibility, particularly in the areas of net tuition revenue, expendable financial resources and total net assets. The indicators below draw from BIIS’s aggregation of historical data from previous NBOA research surveys, combined with a limited set of new operational and compensation data from the 2016-17 school year.

Data collection and reporting are ongoing, so please consider these early indicators as provisional only. Trends may shift dramatically based on several variables, including the impact of the federal tax overhaul, more in-depth analysis of the data and participation by more NBOA member schools.

Net Revenue

Schools calculate net tuition revenue by adding tuition and fees, minus financial aid and tuition remission. Overall, both the median and average have trended upward since 2010, other than slight declines from 2016 to 2017 (median dropped from $21,848 to $20,747, average dipped from $23,312 to $23,050). This number can easily stagnate or decline despite tuition increases if a school’s financial aid budget expands or its enrollment falls. Schools should ensure that any decline in net tuition revenue reflects mission-driven decisions, not efforts to fill seats regardless of cost.


Schools’ expendable financial resources (a term coined by Moody's Investors Service) consist of net assets that are not tied up in/reserved for plant and equipment and not permanently restricted. This indicator is a measure of a school’s short-term resources available to cover expenses, programming or facility improvements.

BIIS reporting shows that the median and average of these resources trended upward for several years, then declined after peaking in 2015. Among positive news, schools in the 10th percentile have strengthened considerably since 2010, and schools in virtually all categories have far more expendable financial resources per student than in the years following the recession.

Net Assets per student

Net assets (assets minus liabilities) are a not-for-profit organization's assets minus its liabilities. This includes longer-term assets, such as property, plant and equipment, as well as liquid assets. Notable declines in the last two years may be an indication of poor financial health, but they might also reflect a school’s conscious decisions to divest itself of some fixed assets or property. Downward trends here may also be due to lower participation after 2015.

Mary Kay Markunas is NBOA’s director, research and member resources. Contact:

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