Times remain difficult for the nation's school districts and colleges, as the budget-cutting ax continues to strike deeper into staffing, programs and operations. However, when it comes to construction spending, money seems to abound.

The amount of construction put in place in 2003 by the nation's education institutions reached an all-time high, even as spending in other areas was curtailed significantly. According to American School & University's 30th annual Official Education Construction Report, school districts and colleges spent $48.1 billion on construction in 2003. The amount represents an almost 20 percent increase in spending compared with 2002. And there is little sign that the robust spending on construction will slow anytime soon, as almost $150 billion is projected to be spent over the next three years.

School districts reversed a year-earlier slowdown by putting in place $28.6 billion worth of construction, an 18 percent increase over 2002. New construction accounted for 61 percent of the dollars spent as districts continue to scramble to provide space for the influx of students.

Colleges and universities continued their aggressive spending, putting in place $19.5 billion worth of construction in 2003, a 20 percent increase over the year before. New facilities accounted for about three out of every four construction projects completed last year.

The 30th annual Official Education Construction Report contains myriad data on construction spending in 2003, as well as projected spending through 2006.

Methodology

To arrive at results for the 30th annual Official Education Construction Report, a detailed questionnaire was mailed in October 2003 to chief business officials at the nation's school districts and colleges. Basically, two questions were asked:

  • Did you complete any construction during the past year?
  • Will you complete any construction in the next three years?

Administrators answering “yes” to either question were then asked to provide a variety of details on the amount being spent, the type of construction being done (new, addition or modernization), and the expected completion date. All respondents involved with new and retrofit construction were asked to provide additional information on each project. Further follow-up calls were made to clarify some data. Responses were separated by institution type, region of the country and institution size, and projected across the education universe.