Attention to Detail: 3rd Annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study

Colleges often have been criticized for not allocating enough resources to improving existing facilities when compared to the attention and money spent on new construction. However, colleges appropriated a larger percentage of their total budgets to maintenance and operations (M&O) in the 1996-97 school year than in years past, according to American School & University's 3rd annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study.

As a whole, colleges allocated 10.5 percent of their total institution budgets to M&O. Spending on M&O per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student, however, dipped slightly this year for all colleges to $768.54 from $775.04 last year.

Compiling the results

To arrive at the results for the 3rd annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, a questionnaire was mailed in October 1996 to more than 1,100 physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Usable surveys were received from approximately 6 percent of respondents.

The survey asked each respondent to document expenditures for various M&O categories for the 1996-97 school year, including salaries, benefits, supplies, equipment and energy. Although the data reported is determined to be representative of M&O costs on a national basis, it does not allow for a further breakdown by state or region.

To provide useful comparative information, this study specifically targets 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. The reason larger 4-year institutions that have significant graduate programs are not surveyed is because their operations are so varied that results would be less useful for overall comparative purposes. Although this survey is not meant to properly reflect larger institutions' expenditures, it does provide some useful data.

Of the survey respondents, 88.6 percent of 2-year colleges were public and 88.5 percent of 4-year institutions were private. This should be taken into consideration when comparing your institution's costs with those reported in the survey.

Examining the data

The charts that follow identify numerous areas of M&O expenditures and feature a variety of staffing information. Table 1 examines M&O spending per FTE student, including such categories as salaries, energy, water/sewer and equipment.

When looking at per-student expenditures for M&O, 4-year colleges budget considerably more than their 2-year counterparts. For the 1996-97 school year, 4-year colleges spent $1,493.35 per student, while 2-year institutions spent $499.29. This wide difference in spending can be attributed to a number of reasons. The most obvious is that 4-year colleges vary significantly in their educational mission and offerings to students. Unlike most 2-year colleges, 4-year institutions typically have older physical plants; more specialized facilities and courses; housing concerns; extensive laboratory and health facilities; and 24-hour, year-round usage.

M&O spending as a percentage of total institution budget is much more comparable between the two types of institutions. Two-year colleges allocate 10.3 percent of their total budgets to M&O, while 4-year institutions dedicate 10.5 percent.

As is the case in most industries, the majority of college M&O dollars are spent on salaries. Both 2-year and 4-year colleges allocate 43 percent of their M&O budget to salaries. When benefits are added, the total increases to 52 percent for 2-year colleges and 55 percent for 4-year institutions.

Another major expenditure per student is energy, including gas, electricity, oil and other sources. Overall, the median college allocates $212.01 per student (or 28 percent of its M&O budget) for energy. Two-year colleges dedicate a larger percentage of their budget (31 percent compared to 26 percent at 4-year institutions) to energy, but spend less per student ($154.68) than 4-year colleges ($394.92).

Four-year institutions spend approximately twice as much per student on equipment and equipment maintenance than their 2-year counterparts. When it comes to supplies and water/sewer, however, 4-year colleges spend upwards of four times the amount per student than 2-year colleges.

Per-square-foot spending and salaries

The differences in M&O expenditures per square feet of building maintained between 4-year and 2-year colleges are much smaller than what is reported per student. For example, whereas 2-year colleges spend $4.25 per square foot on M&O, 4-year institutions spend a slightly lower $3.63. The median college allocates $3.92 per square foot. Table 2 illustrates per-square-foot expenditures for colleges in a variety of categories.

Although many of the M&O costs per square foot for 2-year and 4-year colleges are fairly close, 4-year institutions maintain more than three times the amount of building space per FTE student than 2-year colleges. Four-year institutions maintain 378 square feet per student, whereas 2-year institutions maintain 118 square feet. The median college maintains 186 square feet per student.

Table 3 looks at the median salaries paid to a variety of M&O job functions at colleges. The functions include:

-Administration: Those individuals who have managerial or supervisory duties (does not include the overall director of physical plant).

-Clerical: Those individuals who perform secretarial duties.

-Custodial: Those individuals responsible for building upkeep and cleaning.

-Grounds: Those individuals responsible for landscape maintenance and upkeep.

-Maintenance: Those individuals who perform skilled jobs, such as plumbing, electrical or HVAC repair.

In addition to the above, job functions identified under "other" are security, engineer/architect and motor pool. These functions should only be factored in if they are part of the M&O budget.

To find out the median number of full-time M&O personnel by function at colleges, as well as the median number of full-time M&O personnel per 100 FTE students, consult Table 4. For the 1996-97 school year, the median 2-year college had 40 full-time M&O personnel; the median 4-year institution had 53.5. Overall, the median college had 44 full-time M&O personnel.

The median college employs 1.69 M&O staff per 100 FTE students. When personnel is broken down by institution type, however, 4-year colleges employ 3.51 M&O staff per 100 FTE students, compared to 1.33 at 2-year institutions.

Other M&O results

Among the additional information available in the most recent College M&O Cost Study, it is reported that the median institution maintains 88 total acres. Two-year colleges maintain more acreage (90) than their 4-year counterparts (72).

The median college maintains 489,572 gross square feet of buildings. Four-year institutions maintain 505,000 square feet; 2-year colleges maintain 400,000 square feet.

Contracting of outside M&O services to private firms is done more often at 4-year institutions (42.3 percent) than at 2-year colleges (28.6 percent). Overall, approximately 35 percent of colleges contract out M&O functions.

Compared to last year's results, respondents are planning to make more major M&O equipment purchases. Almost 80 percent of all colleges plan to make major equipment purchases this year. The majority of the buying will be done by 4-year colleges. Eighty-one percent of 4-year colleges plan to purchase major equipment, compared to 77 percent of 2-year institutions.

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