The Department of Education collects financial statistics from universities that includes expenses such as salaries and benefits in their Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Those numbers can sometimes be much smaller than the totals posted in those universities' annual reports.
For example, total salaries and benefits paid by the University of Wisconsin system in 2019 according to their annual report was $3.55 billion. According to IPEDS, it was only $3.25 billion.
The most egregious example might be Yale who reported $2.5 billion in their annual report but only $2.2 billion to IPEDS. Columbia University also reported compensation in IPEDS hundreds of millions below what they reported in their 2019 annual report, or a more than 12 percent difference.
IPEDS data is collected through a self-reported survey from the Department of Education. Annual reports are not necessarily published using common accounting standards such as Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Not all schools publish total compensation data in their annual reports.
Potentially some universities may not be reporting all of their salaries to IPEDS or inflating their payouts in annual reports, but such a discrepancy does not exist for all schools. Harvard, Brown, Rice, and the University of Tennessee either showed little to no difference in wage reporting. Only a selection of annual reports were reviewed.
Sometimes Expenditures Are Off Too
The discrepancy meant that, for some, total expenditures between the two were also far off. For example, Stanford University listed $11 billion in expenditures in its 2019 annual report, but only $6 billion through IPEDS. Total numbers for annual revenue did not show such a discrepancy.
Some schools showed a salary-benefits discrepancy but a negligible difference in total expenditures. Columbia University had a salary-benefits discrepancy of over $250 million. For total expenditures, the difference was less than $10 million.
Compensation and benefits are often the highest expenditures for schools, and their costs continue to increase year by year. In IPEDS data, the median increase in total salaries between 2012 and 2019 was 13 percent, which is exactly in line with inflation over that time period.
When compared with the growth of total expenditures for these schools, total salaries actually decreased over that time period on median.
For Yale, they saw an increase of 25 percent ($1.75 to $2.2 billion). Above inflation but within reason. But that was only according to IPEDS data.
Annual report data lists a much larger increase in salaries over that time. Total salaries and benefits at Yale went from $1.7 billion in 2012 to $2.5 billion, close to doubling.