Every day, it seems, the news from state capitals carries an ominous message for schools and universities. Revenues are down, coffers are empty, and schools will have to cut back spending to stay within their budgets.

For most institutions, that means searching for ways to cut costs and save money in areas that don't affect a school's primary role: educating students. Many schools can unearth savings by taking advantage of technological advancements, more efficient equipment and supplies, and smarter ways of managing their resources. Here are 10 ways schools and universities might be able to get more out of their budgets:

Energy upgrades

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that schools could save $1.5 billion in energy costs by making better energy choices. Altering behavior — turning off lights in unoccupied areas and shutting down unused computers — can save money; installing more energy-efficient equipment also can slice energy bills. Replacing an antiquated, inefficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system with a modern system reduces maintenance costs and lowers long-term energy costs. According to the Energy Department, the typical energy cost for a school is 90 cents per square foot per year; the potential energy cost for a school designed to be energy efficient is 45 cents to 68 cents per square foot per year.

Schools that can't afford the initial expense of new equipment often use performance contracting to partner with energy service companies. The company pays the initial cost of an upgrade, and the school pays for the new system with the savings generated.

Security technology

Continuing technological advancements and lower costs mean that more schools can afford high-tech solutions to security problems. Surveillance equipment such as closed-circuit cameras, access-control systems, metal detectors and alarms can help many schools provide a safer environment for their students and staff without breaking their budgets. Advancements such as digital video recording allow schools to record and archive their surveillance without having to label and store space-gobbling videocassettes.

These security products “can provide school administrators or security officials with information that would not otherwise be available, free up manpower for more appropriate work, or be used to perform mundane tasks,” says a National Institute of Justice report, “The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools.” “Sometimes they can save a school money (compared with the cost of personnel or the cost impact of not preventing a particular incident).”

Maintenance Management Systems (MMS)

Many schools are using technology to help them run and monitor the maintenance programs in their facilities more efficiently. A maintenance management system allows maintenance workers to keep track of ongoing work orders, job costs, preventive-maintenance schedules, and equipment and supply inventory. It also can provide a historical record of completed work.

The first computerized MMS products were stand-alone software packages that required education institutions to have sufficient computer capacity and technological know-how. More recently, MMS packages have become available through application service providers (ASPs), in which a service provider uses its computers to maintain computer applications and institution data, and school maintenance workers connect to the system over the Internet.


If you can't afford it yourself, find someone to split the cost with you. As schools confront the growing problem of aging facilities and insufficient space, more administrators are embracing partnerships as a solution to tight capital budgets. To save funds and maximize use of public facilities, schools have teamed up with park districts, libraries and municipalities on construction projects. Once completed, the school shares the facilities with its community partner.

“The provision of more and better services to the community is often the greatest benefit of joint use,” says a report from New Schools/Better Neighborhoods, a California group that seeks better connections between schools and communities. “The services may be providing after-school use of school playgrounds, theaters and libraries. Schools get the use of fields and other athletic facilities, theaters and libraries during school hours.”