Study: Higher Education Leaders Exploring New Dining Revenue Streams in Preparation for a Coming Demographic Cliff 

Colleges and universities see on-campus automation as critical for long-term success


ITHACA, N.Y. – July 26, 2023 – A new study commissioned by CBORD, a leading provider of technology solutions for higher education, revealed that revenue from on- and off-campus dining is a key concern as colleges and universities prepare for a dramatic drop in student enrollment. As a result, nearly half of surveyed administrators are undertaking initiatives to automate dining operations in order to create frictionless foodservice and expanded dining options for students.

The CBORD Insights™ Student Experience Survey* compiled responses from hundreds of students and top decision-makers at higher education institutions across the country. The findings provide insight into the connected campus of the future, where an integrated automated environment will efficiently meet the needs of a mobile population. Additionally, the survey illustrates how automation and analytics are reshaping the higher education landscape.

The findings reflect an increased focus on what has been called a demographic cliff in higher education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, beginning in 2025 the U.S. faces a steep drop in traditional college-age population. The demographic shift can be traced back to a decline in birthrate that began during the Great Recession of 2007 and continued through 2020, when the U.S. birthrate slid by nearly 20%. Some experts are predicting that a rebound in birthrate is unlikely, putting pressure on many institutions to plan for a significant contraction in matriculating students. Additionally, campuses expect incoming students, who experienced remote learning, to be less interested in living and eating on campus.

“Most colleges and universities operate their foodservice as a standalone enterprise that is expected to turn a profit year after year,” said Dan Park chief executive officer of CBORD. “Dining services typically represent a significant revenue stream, and the disruption of that income has been a top concern for higher education leadership since 2020, when nearly all residential schools closed in response to COVID-19. Add contracting enrollment to that, and we see forward-thinking institutions innovating now in order to secure students and their dining revenue later.”

According to the findings, institutional decision-makers at executive and departmental levels are focusing on developing new revenue streams to offset dining revenue declines associated with the pandemic and the coming demographic cliff. Campuses are exploring revenue streams such as transaction fees from off-campus dining venues, on-campus franchises, food delivery partnerships and self-service kiosks. Departmental leaders ranked exploring new revenue sources as their top initiative, while top administrators ranked it second only to labor-reducing automation.

“COVID-19 caused us to reevaluate some major aspects of our financial model and has led to a shift in how we think about on-campus dining,” said Mike Henderson of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “Just as many of our programs have adapted to both an on-campus and remote element, we are seeing many opportunities to use mobile technology to collaborate with our surrounding communities to provide dining services to our students in the years ahead.”

According to the study, nearly half of college leaders have invested in automation in the last two years, and more than half expect to over the next two years. With staffing shortages expected to persist and dining revenue predicted to decline, campus administrators see automation as a solution that allows them to maintain service levels and preserve dining revenue for the long term.

“An automated, connected campus enables students to use their ID to access facilities such as residence halls, dining facilities and classroom buildings,” Park said. “Moreover, these systems create a frictionless transaction experience, empowering students to pay for things like meals, parking, books, supplies, and laundry without carrying cash or credit cards.”

For a detailed analysis of the entire CBORD survey and to access more CBORD Insights on higher education, please visit CBORD’s website:


Conducted for CBORD by KS&R, a market research firm, in February and March 2023. Respondents included top-level, multi-site decision-makers, departmental leaders (primarily in business operations, dining and culinary services, enterprise systems and support, purchasing and procurement, and facilities) and students. More than half of the responding students were attending undergraduate programs (55%), while roughly a quarter were attending junior or community colleges (27%) or graduate programs (23%). Nearly two-thirds of responding students (64%) were living off-campus, while the others (36%) were on-campus.

*CBORD Insights™ Student Experience Survey, February 2023. N=179 C-suite/VP-level administrators in public and private universities with undergraduate and graduate programs and N=101 student respondents.


CBORD is a leading provider of software that connects foodservice, commerce and housing systems across higher education, healthcare, senior living and business campuses. Guided by customer-centric development and support, CBORD solutions are used by more than 10,000 organizations in the U.S. and across the world. CBORD operates as a unit of Roper Technologies (ROP), a diversified technology company with annual revenues of $5.4 billion and member of the S&P 500 and Fortune 1000. To learn more about CBORD’s solutions, visit

About KS&R

KS&R is a nationally recognized strategic consultancy and marketing research firm that provides clients with timely, fact-based insights and actionable solutions through industry-centered expertise. Specializing in Business Services, Entercom & Recreation, Healthcare, Retail & E-Commerce, Technology, and Transportation & Logistics verticals, KS&R empowers companies globally to make smarter business decisions. For more information, please visit

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Contact: Bennett Kleinberg,, 917-416-4012