Higher Education Retail Market Facts & Figures

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Higher Education & Student Demographics
Higher education is not evenly distributed by type of institution or by student enrollment. The latest available data (Fall 2012) from the National Center for Education Statistics reports a total of 4,726 colleges and universities in the United States. Of that number, the majority [66%] are private, while 34% are public institutions.

There is also a significant difference in the percentages of four-year schools [57%] compared to two-year [43%] colleges and technical schools. The following graphs show the disproportionate distribution of institutions and student enrollment across higher education.


 Percentage of Colleges and Universities by Enrollment


The number of students is one of the most common measures used when comparing college campuses or talking about the college market. It is very important to evaluate both total enrollment and the FTE [full-time equivalent] numbers for institutions, as well as the percentages of full-time and part-time students, in order to make relevant comparisons. For many institutions, there are significant differences in total enrollment and the full-time equivalent (FTE) number of students. And while the FTE number of students allows for an "apples-to-apples" comparison between campuses, knowing the corresponding total enrollment for an FTE number puts it in context.   

Why it matters –
A campus and store serving the FTE of 4,000 students and a total enrollment of 4,200 will be significantly different from the campus with the same 4,000 FTE number, but an enrollment of 12,000 students.


College Students
While college students are often referred to by age and student status as a single market, the college market is actually quite diverse and disparate, formed from a wide mix of consumers wielding substantial buying power across the country.
The graph below shows the latest available demographics for college students in the U.S.


 Percentage of the 20.8 million college students enrolled (Fall2013)


* Only 29% of students attend a private institution, though private schools make up 66% of colleges and universities in the U.S.

The data shown in Higher Education and Student Demographics was reported in Almanac 2014-15, published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 22, 2014 and from the National Center for Education Statistics at www.nces.ed.gov/fastfacts.


College Stores
While there is no actual count of campus stores in the U.S., NACS estimates 4,500-5,000 stores serve the collegiate retail market. There is not a one-to-one relationship between campus and store. Larger universities will have several stores to serve students; smaller schools in a local area may be served by a single store; and several schools in an urban community may share multiple retail outlets. While many college stores share a common mission, they vary greatly in size, location, ownership, and customer base.
The largest percentage of college stores are owned or operated by the institution. On-campus stores are mostly institutional, but they may also be operated under contract, as cooperatives, or by student associations. Off-campus stores are typically private businesses.

Sales volume in college stores is determined by many factors, but the major influence on sales seems most closely tied to the size of the institution it serves. Based on the estimated total college store market and estimated number of stores, average annual sales for U.S. college stores (2013-14) were $2 million.   

Total College Store Market
NACS' estimates of annual sales for all U.S. college stores are shown in the following graph, with corresponding fall enrollments.  These figures were estimated based on data obtained in annual financial surveys of college stores. The latest estimate reflects data obtained in the Independent College Stores Financial Survey 2013-14, and provisional data of 2013 enrollment figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.


 U.S. College Store Sales and Enrollment Trends

Textbook Prices
The price of individual textbooks varies greatly, depending on subject matter and many other factors. For college stores, any book or other media that is required or recommended for class is a “textbook.” This is a much broader definition than is used by publishers and the general public. And it is a significant factor in the average price reported from Financial Survey data. Textbooks for college stores will include many books and materials that were not published as textbooks.

A few examples of general books that could be sold as textbooks/course materials would be Jane Austen novels for literature classes, biographies for history courses, or current paperbacks for sociology and political science students. This broader definition results in significant differences in estimates of textbook prices and the total textbook market, compared to estimates based only on "published textbooks."

The following graph for average textbook prices is based on data obtained in the annual financial survey of college stores. The most recent data for “average price” was based on the sale of 3.4 million new books and 1.9 million used books sold in 134 U.S. college stores, obtained in the Independent College Stores Financial Survey 2013-14.


 Textbook Prices

Student Spending
Student spending varies by two-year and four-year schools, part-time and full-time students, student status (1st year – graduate school), and by academic major.

The latest available data on student spending is from Student Watch: Attitudes & Behaviors toward Course Materials, Fall 2014. Based on survey data, students spent an average of $313 on their required course materials, including purchases and rentals, for that fall term.  Students spent an average of $358 on purchases for “necessary but not required” technology, such as laptops, USB drives, for the same period.

Students acquired, on average, six course materials for the fall 2014 term.  The diagram below shows the breakdown of those materials.


 Fall 2014 Course Materials

Annual student spending on course materials, based on Student Watch survey data, is shown below.


 Annual Required Course Material Spending

Any questions on college store data or student spending shown here should be directed to OnCampus Research at research@nacs.org.   



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