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.