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A Modest Pullback: 8th annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study

Result's from AS&U's 8th Annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study

Editor's note: To view the charts and graphs that accompany this article, click HERE. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

The economic downturn has taken its toll on college maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets, reversing an upward trend over the past few years in the amount 2-year and 4-year institutions allocated to M&O as a percentage of total budget.

M&O spending as a percentage of total budget dropped to 10 percent from 10.5 percent a year ago, according to American School & University's eighth annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. While the downward move is not major, it does come at a time when construction spending at higher-education institutions is booming.

Behind the survey

In January, physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs were asked to document various M&O costs for the 2001-02 school year. No universities were included in this research. The survey specifically targets 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs in order to provide useful comparative data. Larger 4-year universities with significant graduate programs are not surveyed because their costs and activities are so varied that results would be less useful.

Of survey respondents, 51 percent were 2-year institutions, 45 percent 4-year and 4 percent gave no specification. In addition, 58 percent were public institutions and 42 percent private, while 58 percent listed their classification as urban, 13 percent suburban, 27 percent rural and 2 percent other.

Dissecting the data

Information for this year's M&O Cost Study is compiled in a variety of tables and charts detailing M&O expenditures at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges. Table 1 details M&O spending per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student for such categories as salaries, benefits, gas, electricity, other utilities, maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, vehicle maintenance and total M&O, and identifies the percentage of total budget colleges allocate to M&O.

As in past surveys, 4-year colleges continue to spend considerably more per student for M&O than 2-year institutions. For the 2001-02 school year, 4-year colleges apportioned more than three-and-a-half times more per student ($1,777) than 2-year colleges ($496).

There are a number of reasons for the wide discrepancy in spending per student. The most obvious being 4-year colleges differ significantly in their educational mission and offerings to students. In addition, 4-year colleges typically have older physical plants; more specialized facilities and courses; housing; large-scale health and laboratory buildings; and 24-hour, year-round usage than 2-year institutions.

The largest portion of M&O dollars at colleges continues to go toward salaries and benefits, which represent 55 percent of the total budget. Two-year colleges spend 52 percent of their M&O budgets on salaries and benefits, while 4-year colleges apportion 58 percent.

Energy (gas and electricity) accounts for the second largest expenditure in M&O budgets (29 percent). Two-year colleges saw the biggest percentage increase in energy costs, jumping to 37 percent of the total M&O budget compared to 28 percent last year. Four-year institutions allocate 27 percent of their M&O budget to energy, down from 29 percent last year.

Additional costs

M&O expenditures per square foot of building maintained can be found in Table 2. Two-year colleges spend more per square foot on M&O than their 4-year counterparts ($4.10 versus $3.22). They also spend more per square foot on salaries, benefits and energy than 4-year colleges, but less on other utilities, and maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies.

Square feet of building maintained per FTE student varies significantly among 4-year and 2-year colleges. Four-year institutions maintain almost four times the amount of building space than 2-year colleges (492 square feet per student compared with 127 square feet per student at 2-year colleges). The median college maintains 213 square feet per student.

Table 3 features salary data for a variety of M&O job functions at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges. 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.

Among other survey findings:

  • The amount of square feet maintained per custodian at all colleges equaled 32,750. Square feet maintained per custodian at 2-year colleges topped 26,000, while custodians at 4-year institutions maintained 35,584 square feet each.

  • Square feet maintained per maintenance worker equaled 62,368 at all colleges, 57,243 at 2-year institutions and 72,778 at 4-year colleges.

  • Acres maintained per grounds employee equaled 21 at all colleges, 32 at 2-year institutions and 18 at 4-year colleges.

  • The median M&O budget at all colleges for the 2001-02 school year was $1.67 million, $1.46 million at 2-year institutions and $2.13 million at 4-year colleges.

Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U.

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