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Rising to the Challenge: 7th Annual College M&O Cost Study

Results from AS&U's 7th Annual College M&O Cost Study

An aging inventory of buildings, a backlog of deferred maintenance and a rapid escalation of new space as a result of the higher-education construction boom continue to put added pressure on maintenance and operations (M&O) budgets. But colleges are rising to the M&O challenge, committing a larger percentage of their total budget to M&O in the 2000-01 school year.

M&O spending as a percentage of total budget grew to 10.5 percent compared with 10 percent a year ago, according to American School & University's seventh annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. Although spending on M&O per square foot dipped from last year, spending per student increased 11 percent.

Survey Methodology

In November, an in-depth questionnaire was mailed to 1,500 physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Recipients were asked to document expenditures for various M&O categories for the 2000-01 school year, including salaries, benefits, energy, equipment and supplies.

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 information. Larger 4-year universities with significant graduate programs are not surveyed because their operations are so varied that results would be less useful.

Of survey respondents, 86 percent of 2-year colleges were public, while 92 percent of 4-year colleges were private. When both types of respondents are combined, 58 percent were public institutions.

A Closer Look

Data is compiled in a variety of tables and charts detailing M&O costs at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges. Table 1 reviews M&O spending per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student for such categories as salaries, benefits, energy, other utilities, maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, other costs and total M&O, and identifies the percentage of the total budget colleges allocated to M&O.

The most obvious finding is that 4-year colleges spend considerably more per student for M&O than 2-year institutions. For the 2000-01 school year, 4-year colleges allocated $1,335 per student while 2-year colleges spent $586.

A number of factors contribute to 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.

Both 2-year and 4-year colleges have increased over last year the percentage of total budget earmarked for M&O. Two-year colleges allocated 10.8 percent and 4-year institutions 10.2 percent of their total budget to M&O for the 2000-01 school year (9.9 percent and 10 percent, respectively, last year). Combined, colleges allocated 10.5 percent of their total budget to M&O.

Salaries and benefits represent the largest portion of M&O costs at colleges: 52 percent. Two-year colleges apportion 55 percent of their M&O budgets on salaries and benefits while 4-year colleges spend roughly 50 percent.

Energy accounted for the second largest expenditure in M&O budgets: about 29 percent at all levels. Although a spike in energy prices is affecting most areas of the nation, the increased costs incurred by colleges this year most likely are not represented in the results because data collected for this survey were received prior to the rapid run-up in prices.

Further Breakouts

Table 2 breaks down M&O expenditures per square foot of building maintained. While M&O costs per square foot for 2-year and 4-year colleges are fairly close across most of the categories surveyed, square feet of building maintained per FTE student varies significantly. Four-year colleges maintain more than three times the amount of building space than 2-year colleges (486 square feet per student compared with 150 square feet per student at 2-year colleges). The median college maintains 219 square feet per student.

Salary data for a variety of M&O job functions at 2-year, 4-year and all colleges can be found in Table 3. 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.

Table 4 details 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 2000-01 school year, the median 2-year college employed 31 M&O personnel; the median 4-year institution 41; and the median college 35 M&O personnel.

Almost twice as many M&O staff per 100 FTE students are employed at 4-year colleges than 2-year colleges (3.03 compared to 1.63). The median college employs 2.27 M&O staff per 100 FTE students.

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