Difficult economic conditions continue to be a drag on college budgets, and contributed to institutions cutting back on the percentage spent on maintaining and operating their facilities.

Spending on maintenance and operations (M&O) as a percentage of total college budget dropped to 9.5 percent (from 10 percent last year) according to American School & University's 10th annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study. The decrease in percentage spending came even as energy and utilities costs skyrocketed.

Behind the study

In October, physical plant directors at two-year colleges and four-year institutions with no significant graduate programs were mailed a detailed questionnaire asking them to document various M&O costs for the 2003-04 school year.

The survey specifically targets two-year colleges and four-year institutions with no significant graduate programs in order to provide useful comparative data. No universities were included in this research. 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 tables and charts that follow — which detail M&O expenditures at two-year, four-year and all colleges — identify median expenditures for M&O 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 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.

The most significant finding is that two-year colleges posted a significant drop in the percentage of total budget allocated to M&O this year over the previous year (9 percent compared with 12 percent). Two-year institutions also spend a larger percentage of their M&O dollars on salaries (48 percent compared with 41 percent at four-year institutions).

In addition, energy and utilities costs per student and per square foot significantly increased. For all colleges, the median cost per student for total utilities skyrocketed 35 percent over the year before; the median cost per square foot jumped 15 percent.

Table 2 details median M&O expenditures per square foot of building maintained. As has been noted in past studies, 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 (462 square feet per student compared with 128 square feet per student at two-year colleges). The median college maintains 207 square feet per student.

Table 3 lists 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).

  • 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.

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

  • Security: Those individuals responsible for safety of buildings and equipment. Does not include professional security or law-enforcement officials, if employed by the college.