A Mixed Bag: 6th Annual College M&O Cost Study for Colleges

April 1, 2000
With enrollment rising, colleges are spending less per student, but more per square foot, on M&O in the 1999-00 school year.

The challenge to upkeep facilities in light of a growing student population and aging infrastructure is impacting how institutions manage maintenance and operations (M&O). For the 1999-00 school year, colleges are spending less per student on M&O. However, through cost cutting and improved procedures, institutions continue to allocate 10 percent of their total budgets to M&O.

While M&O spending per student is down from last year, spending per square foot is up. According to American School & University's sixth annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, colleges are spending $4.07 per square foot (compared to $3.62 last year) and $724 per student (compared to $742 last year) on M&O.

Getting results

To arrive at the results for this year's College M&O Cost Study, an in-depth questionnaire was mailed to more than 1,500 physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Those surveyed were asked to document expenditures for various M&O categories for the 1999-00 school year, including salaries, benefits, energy, equipment and supplies.

This 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.

More than 91 percent of 2-year colleges responding to the survey are public, while 80 percent of 4-year colleges are private. Hopefully, this will help when comparing your college's M&O costs with those reported in the survey.

Just the facts Considerably more is budgeted per student for M&O by 4-year colleges than their 2-year counterparts. For the 1999-00 school year, 4-year colleges allocated $1,512 per student while 2-year colleges spent $494. As detailed in prior surveys, the wide discrepancy in spending is most likely due to a variety of factors, including the most obvious-4-year colleges differ significantly in their educational mission and offerings to students. Four-year colleges also typically have older physical plants; more specialized buildings and courses; housing; large-scale laboratory and health facilities; and 24-hour, year-round usage than their 2-year counterparts.

When it comes to how large a piece M&O receives of the total budget, 4-year colleges report 10 percent of the budget goes to M&O, while 2-year colleges allocate 9.9 percent. This is a reversal from past surveys, where 2-year colleges continually allocated a larger percentage of their total budgets to M&O than 4-year institutions.

Salaries and benefits represent the largest portion of M&O costs at both 2-year and 4-year colleges. Two-year colleges spend roughly 53 percent of their M&O budgets on salaries and benefits, 4-year colleges 44 percent, and all institutions 53 percent.

The next most significant M&O expenditure per student for both 2-year and 4-year colleges is energy, which includes electricity, oil, gas and other sources. Four-year colleges allocate a larger percentage of their budget (34 percent compared to 29 percent at 2-year institutions) to energy, and spend more than three times the amount ($507) per student than 2-year colleges ($142). The median college spends 26 percent of its M&O budget ($191 per student) on energy.

Other expenditures include supplies (which make up more than 10 percent of all colleges' M&O budgets per student) equipment maintenance (4 percent), equipment (4 percent) and water/sewer (3 percent). Four-year colleges allocate a larger percentage of their M&O budgets per student to water/sewer, supplies and equipment. Two-year colleges spend a higher percentage on equipment maintenance.

More on costs

Per-square-foot spending is much more comparable between 2-year and 4-year colleges than per-student expenditures. For example, 2-year colleges spend $4.50 per square foot on M&O while 4-year colleges spend $3.76. The median college spends $4.07 per square foot on M&O.

While M&O costs per square foot for 2-year and 4-year colleges are fairly close across most of the categories surveyed, it's a different story in regards to square feet of building maintained. Four-year colleges maintain almost four times the amount of building space per FTE student than 2-year colleges (500 square feet per student compared to 133 square feet per student at 2-year colleges). The median college maintains 206 square feet per student.

Table 3 lists the median salary for a variety of M&O job functions at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges. Among the 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.

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, can be found in Table 4. For the 1999-00 school year, the median 2-year college employed 38 M&O personnel; the median 4-year institution 48; and the median college 41 M&O personnel.

Four-year colleges employ significantly more M&O staff per 100 FTE students than 2-year colleges (3.15 compared to 1.17). The median college employs 2.05 M&O staff per 100 FTE students.

Colleges outsource much more than their school district counterparts. Approximately 41 percent of institutions (43 percent of 4-year colleges and 40 percent of 2-year colleges) report contracting out M&O services to private firms.

More than two-thirds of colleges say they will make major M&O equipment purchases this school year. Approximately 71 percent of all colleges will purchase such items as automobiles, HVAC and cleaning equipment, and grounds machinery. By institution type, 72 percent of 2-year colleges and 70 percent of 4-year colleges will buy major equipment.

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