Making Gains: 5th Annual College Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Cost Study

As competition grows on the higher-education front, more institutions are improving their position by focusing on an aspect that typically is the first-and often most remembered-impression prospective students and parents have as they search for a college: the physical environment.

According to American School & University's fifth annual College Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Cost Study, colleges are allocating more money and a larger percentage of their total budgets to improve the appearance and operations of facilities. Overall, colleges earmarked 10 percent of their total institution budgets to M&O for the 1998-99 school year (compared with 9.7 percent last year).

Survey methodology

To arrive at the results for this year's College M&O Cost Study, in-depth questionnaires were mailed to approximately 1,300 physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Respondents were asked to document expenditures for various M&O categories for the 1998-99 school year, including salaries, benefits, supplies, energy and equipment.

The survey specifically targets 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs in order to provide useful comparative information. Larger 4-year colleges with significant graduate programs are not surveyed because their operations are so varied that results would be less useful.

Responding institution backgrounds vary. More than 93 percent of 2-year colleges responding to the survey are public, while 86 percent of 4-year colleges are private. This should be helpful when comparing your college's costs with those reported in the survey.

Facts and figures

Table 1 reviews M&O spending per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student, and includes breakdowns by 2-year, 4-year, and all colleges for such categories as salaries, benefits, energy, supplies, water/sewer, equipment, total M&O and equipment maintenance, and identifies the percentage of the total budget allocated to M&O by colleges.

Four-year colleges traditionally budget considerably more per student for M&O than their 2-year counterparts. For the 1998-99 school year, 4-year colleges allocated $1,559 per student while 2-year colleges spent $536. As described in previous surveys, the wide discrepancy in spending is most likely due to a number of factors, including the most obvious-4-year colleges differ significantly in their educational mission and offerings to students. In addition, 4-year colleges typically have more specialized buildings and courses; older physical plants; extensive laboratory and health facilities; housing; and 24-hour, year-round usage than 2-year colleges.

However, 2-year colleges continue to allocate a larger percentage of their total institution budgets to M&O than 4-year colleges. Two-year colleges allocate 10.5 percent of their total budgets to M&O while 4-year colleges dedicate 10 percent.

As can be expected, salaries and benefits represent the largest portion of M&O costs at both 2-year and 4-year colleges. Two-year colleges spend 54 percent of their M&O budgets on salaries and benefits, 4-year colleges 51 percent, and all institutions 52 percent.

Energy, including gas, electricity, oil and other sources, is the next most significant expenditure per student. Four-year colleges allocate a larger percentage of their budget (30 percent compared to 28 percent at 2-year institutions) to energy, and spend more than three times the amount ($465) per student than 2-year colleges ($152). The median college earmarks 26 percent of its M&O budget ($193 per student) to energy.

Supplies make up more than 10 percent of all colleges' M&O budgets per student, followed by equipment maintenance (5 percent), equipment (3 percent) and water/sewer (3 percent). While 4-year colleges spend more per student on supplies and water/sewer, 2-year colleges outspend them on equipment and equipment maintenance.

Additional data

Table 2 offers a breakdown of M&O expenditures per square feet of building maintained, which are more comparable between 2-year and 4-year colleges than per-student costs. For example, 2-year colleges spend $3.70 per square foot on M&O while 4-year colleges spend $3.41. The median college spends $3.62 per square foot.

M&O costs per square foot for 2-year and 4-year colleges are fairly close across most of the categories surveyed. However, 4-year colleges maintain more than four times the amount of building space per FTE student than 2-year colleges. Four-year institutions maintain 545 square feet per student; 2-year colleges maintain 132 square feet. The median college upkeeps 194 square feet per student.

Salary figures always are of interest to most readers. Table 3 lists the median salaries paid for a variety of M&O job functions at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges. Amongthe titles surveyed 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.

-Engineer/Architect: Those in-house positions responsible for planning, design and specialized facilities duties.

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

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

-Motor Pool: Those individuals involved with transportation operations.

-Security: Those individuals responsible for safety of buildings and equipment. Does not include professional security or law-enforcement officials, if employed by the college.

When comparing salaries, please note that job functions such as security, engineer/architect and motor pool should only be factored in if they are part of your M&O budget.

Table 4 identifies the median number of full- and part-time M&O personnel by function at colleges, as well as the median number of M&O personnel per 100 FTE students. For the 1998-99 school year, the median 2-year college employed 43 M&O personnel; the median 4-year institution had 50; and the median college had 44 M&O personnel.

In addition, 4-year colleges employ significantly more M&O staff per 100 FTE students than 2-year colleges (4 compared to 1.61). The median college employs 2.72 M&O staff per 100 FTE students.

Under the microscope

Among additional data gleaned from the most recent College M&O Cost Study, the median responding institution:

-Has a 1998-99 school-year budget of $1.8 million for M&O.

-Maintains 80 total acres.

-Has a full-time enrollment of 1,625 (2,650 at 2-year colleges and 1,250 at 4-year institutions).

-Has 21 buildings on campus.

-Maintains 423,853 gross square feet (gsf) of buildings (2-year colleges maintain 412,975 gsf; 4-year colleges maintain 480,000 gsf).

Contracted services are prevalent on college campuses. Approximately 47 percent of institutions (50 percent of 4-year colleges and 44 percent of 2-year colleges) report turning over M&O to outside firms.

A majority of colleges expect to make major M&O equipment purchases this school year. Approximately 77 percent of all colleges will purchase such items as automobiles, cleaning equipment and grounds machinery. By institution type, 73 percent of 2-year colleges and 81 percent of 4-year colleges will be procuring major equipment.

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