Colleges placed more of an emphasis on maintenance and operations (M&O) this school year by increasing the amount spent on M&O as a percentage of total budget. While still short of percentage-spending amounts from years past, the upward move is welcome as higher-education institutions attempt to address a backlog of deferred maintenance and rapidly deteriorating facilities.

According to American School & University's 12th annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, spending on M&O as a percentage of total college budget increased to 11 percent from 10 percent last year. School district spending on M&O remained fairly constant at 7.5 percent of total budget.

Crunching the numbers

Data for the annual M&O Cost Study was collected via an in-depth questionnaire mailed in October to physical plant directors at two-year colleges and four-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Recipients were asked to document various M&O costs for the 2005-06 school year.

The survey only targets two-year colleges and four-year institutions with no significant graduate programs in order to provide useful comparative data. Larger four-year universities with significant graduate programs are not surveyed because their costs and activities typically are so varied that results would be less useful.

The M&O Cost Study breaks out data by two-year, four-year and all colleges. The tables and charts found throughout the report detail median M&O expenditures per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student and per square foot, as well as the incidence of various maintenance practices.

Table 1 outlines median M&O expenditures per FTE student for categories such as salaries, benefits, gas, electricity, other utilities, custodial/maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, vehicle maintenance and total M&O, and identifies the percentage of total budget colleges direct to M&O.

Table 2 details median M&O expenditures per square foot of building maintained for categories such as salaries, benefits, gas, electricity, other utilities, custodial/maintenance and grounds equipment and supplies, vehicle maintenance and total M&O, and lists the square footage of building maintained per FTE student.

Table 3 highlights salary data for a variety of M&O job functions at two-year, four-year and all colleges, as well as the median number of employees for those functions. Among the titles included:

  • Administrative: Those individuals who have managerial or supervisory duties (does not include the overall director of physical plant).

  • Custodial: Those individuals responsible for building upkeep and cleaning.

  • Grounds: Those individuals responsible for landscape maintenance and upkeep.

  • Maintenance: Those individuals who perform skilled jobs, such as plumbing, electrical or HVAC repair.

  • Secretarial/Clerical: Those individuals who perform secretarial duties.

Additional highlights of this year's survey:

  • The median M&O budget for all colleges is $2.4 million ($2.2 million at two-year colleges and $3.0 million at four-year institutions).

  • The median FTE enrollment of survey respondents is 1,865 (2,500 at two-year colleges and 1,405 at four-year institutions).

  • The amount of square feet maintained per custodian jumped to 35,326 from 30,960 last year. At two-year colleges, the number of square feet maintained per custodian is 35,326; at four-year institutions, it is 36,354.

  • Square feet maintained per maintenance worker increased this year to 74,714 from 70,062 last year.

  • The number of acres maintained per grounds employee remained constant at 25.

  • The median total utilities cost for all colleges is $740,000. Gas and electricity account for approximately 85 percent of the cost for all utilities.

  • The median number of buildings on a two-year college campus is 13; the median number of buildings on a four-year campus is 23.

  • Both two-year and four-year colleges increased their practice of outsourcing M&O services. Twenty-seven percent of two-year colleges and 26 percent of four-year colleges use privatized services (20 and 22 percent, respectively, last year).