College spending on maintenance and operations (M&O) held steady this year, even as the economy continues to wreak havoc on higher-education budgets.

M&O spending as a percentage of total budget remained at 10 percent, according to American School & University's ninth annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. While the percentage amount remained constant, total M&O spending per student dropped by 13 percent from last year as total M&O spending per square foot grew by 4 percent.


To arrive at the results, physical plant directors at two-year colleges and four-year institutions with no significant graduate programs were mailed in October a detailed questionnaire asking them to document various M&O costs for the 2002-03 school year.

No universities were included in this research. The survey specifically 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 are so varied that results would be less useful.

This year's results are listed not only by median, which is how data have been presented in the past, but also by mean (average) to offer an additional benchmarking tool.

In the details

This year's Cost Study includes a variety of tables and charts detailing M&O expenditures at two-year, four-year and all colleges. Table 1 and Table 1A outline median and mean 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.

Two-year colleges spend a larger portion of total budget (12 percent) on M&O than four-year institutions (10 percent). However, they also allocate a larger percentage of their M&O dollars to salaries (52 percent compared with 43 percent at four-year institutions).

Median and mean M&O expenditures per square foot of building maintained can be found in Table 2 and Table 2A. Square feet of building maintained per FTE student varies significantly among four-year and two-year colleges. Four-year institutions maintain almost four times the amount of building space than two-year colleges (426 square feet per student compared with 125 square feet per student at two-year colleges). The median college maintains 189 square feet per student.

Table 3 details salary data for a variety of M&O job functions at two-year, four-year and all colleges. Among the titles surveyed:

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

  • Clerical/Secretarial: 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. It does not include professional security or law-enforcement officials, if employed by the college.