Colleges often have been criticized for not allocating enough resources to improving existing facilities when compared to the attention and money spent on new construction. However, colleges appropriated a larger percentage of their total budgets to maintenance and operations (M&O) in the 1996-97 school year than in years past, according to American School & University's 3rd annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study.

As a whole, colleges allocated 10.5 percent of their total institution budgets to M&O. Spending on M&O per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student, however, dipped slightly this year for all colleges to $768.54 from $775.04 last year.

Compiling the results

To arrive at the results for the 3rd annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study, a questionnaire was mailed in October 1996 to more than 1,100 physical plant directors at 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. Usable surveys were received from approximately 6 percent of respondents.

The survey asked each respondent to document expenditures for various M&O categories for the 1996-97 school year, including salaries, benefits, supplies, equipment and energy. Although the data reported is determined to be representative of M&O costs on a national basis, it does not allow for a further breakdown by state or region.

To provide useful comparative information, this study specifically targets 2-year colleges and 4-year institutions with no significant graduate programs. The reason larger 4-year institutions that have significant graduate programs are not surveyed is because their operations are so varied that results would be less useful for overall comparative purposes. Although this survey is not meant to properly reflect larger institutions' expenditures, it does provide some useful data.

Of the survey respondents, 88.6 percent of 2-year colleges were public and 88.5 percent of 4-year institutions were private. This should be taken into consideration when comparing your institution's costs with those reported in the survey.

Examining the data

The charts that follow identify numerous areas of M&O expenditures and feature a variety of staffing information. Table 1 examines M&O spending per FTE student, including such categories as salaries, energy, water/sewer and equipment.

When looking at per-student expenditures for M&O, 4-year colleges budget considerably more than their 2-year counterparts. For the 1996-97 school year, 4-year colleges spent $1,493.35 per student, while 2-year institutions spent $499.29. This wide difference in spending can be attributed to a number of reasons. The most obvious is that 4-year colleges vary significantly in their educational mission and offerings to students. Unlike most 2-year colleges, 4-year institutions typically have older physical plants; more specialized facilities and courses; housing concerns; extensive laboratory and health facilities; and 24-hour, year-round usage.

M&O spending as a percentage of total institution budget is much more comparable between the two types of institutions. Two-year colleges allocate 10.3 percent of their total budgets to M&O, while 4-year institutions dedicate 10.5 percent.

As is the case in most industries, the majority of college M&O dollars are spent on salaries. Both 2-year and 4-year colleges allocate 43 percent of their M&O budget to salaries. When benefits are added, the total increases to 52 percent for 2-year colleges and 55 percent for 4-year institutions.

Another major expenditure per student is energy, including gas, electricity, oil and other sources. Overall, the median college allocates $212.01 per student (or 28 percent of its M&O budget) for energy. Two-year colleges dedicate a larger percentage of their budget (31 percent compared to 26 percent at 4-year institutions) to energy, but spend less per student ($154.68) than 4-year colleges ($394.92).

Four-year institutions spend approximately twice as much per student on equipment and equipment maintenance than their 2-year counterparts. When it comes to supplies and water/sewer, however, 4-year colleges spend upwards of four times the amount per student than 2-year colleges.